Maestros | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader


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Both James Fei and David Novak, together known as Maestros, have pretty highbrow musical pedigrees: they've each played saxophone with Anthony Braxton, and Fei has studied with contemporary composers like Alvin Lucier, Steve Mackey, and Paul Lansky. But these New Yorkers happily deflate the pretensions that often go hand in glove with such a background. On the recent double three-inch CD Precision Electro-Acoustics (Organized Sound Recordings) they make a virtue of their ad hoc technical setups, low-tech gear, blunt humor, and messy sound: the duo's bio-cum-manifesto declares, "Maestro Music is all recorded live with no overdubbing, fancy laptop acrobatics, or studio bullshit. No devices are used in the manner intended by their manufacturers." Such chest beating would ring hollow if Maestros couldn't deliver the goods, but the 14 succinct tracks on their new release are consistently fascinating, not just as music but as documents of the band's processes. On "Human Beat Box and Mixer With Feedback," a four-track mixer combines two feedback loops with a reed organ and some decidedly amateurish mouth percussion; vaguely rhythmic low-end smears, a spacey, hiccuping squeal, and a blur of high-end static all jostle unpredictably for space. "Holy Land" uses the same setup, but there the voice and organ deliver a doo-wop-style tune that emerges from the mixer as an otherworldly hymn. For "Fireside Chat" Fei and Novak attach contact mikes to their throats, creating rising and falling speechlike cadences that mimic the roller-coaster rhythms of conversation, but without any discernible words; for "Electricity and Its Double" they rewire an electronic musical toy and pair it with a bassoon. But Maestros balance this kind of goofiness with a sober sense of purpose and a solid feel for the difference between entertaining an audience and just entertaining themselves: on Precision Electro-Acoustics they also play a series of unprocessed saxophone duets, and even with nothing but their horns and their wits to rely on, they manage to push a few musical envelopes. Wednesday, April 3, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

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