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Michael Zerang

Michael Zerang

Michael Zerang & the Blue Lights 

When: Tue., Jan. 7, 10 p.m. 2014
Percussionist Michael Zerang has been ubiquitous on Chicago’s jazz and improvised-music scene since the late 70s. He’s been a key player in countless bands—Liof Munimula, the Vandermark Quartet, the Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, Broken Wire, and his long-running duo with fellow drummer Hamid Drake, plus many ad hoc or short-lived groupings—and he’s always reliable in freely improvised performances. Though he’s scored dozens of film, dance, and theater projects, he’s rarely written music as a bandleader, which makes his new band the Blue Lights—with saxophonists Dave Rempis and Mars Williams, cornetist Josh Berman, and bassist Kent Kessler—especially exciting. Zerang put together the group last year, and based on three demo tracks I’ve heard, it’s dynamite. The pieces are built around warm, woody ostinatos from Kessler (a Zerang collaborator from the beginning), with tart, sparse horn parts filling in the foreground—first with soulful calm, then with increasing agitation. The lovely themes would remind me of late-70s and early-80s recordings by the likes of David Murray, Craig Harris, and Julius Hemphill, except they’re imbued with Middle Eastern sonorities. The melodies’ graceful simplicity allows Williams and Rempis to take flight without losing touch with the elegant grooves. I can only imagine how hot the Blue Lights will be by the time they wrap up this weekly Tuesday residency at the end of the month, but they’re already on fire. —Peter Margasak

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