Numbers | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Numbers 

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NUMBERS

New band, some old ideas, and a fresh approach: there's definitely strength in Numbers. Bassist Ken Haebich's quintet harks back to a time before "fusion" was a dirty word and recaptures some of the brittle, glittering energy that characterized the first electric-jazz bands. They accomplish this not so much with synths and electronics--though Numbers do feature doses of both--as with rhythm and dues (as in experience). Haebich has constructed Numbers around the dynamic drummer Larry Beers--a fixture on the Chicago rock scene through his work with the Charming Beggars--who brings a welcome and surprising depth to harsh beats and power drum fills: he can pound and crash while maintaining the loose-limbed awareness needed for jazz. The band's repertoire, most of it by Haebich, also starts with rhythm. His best tunes establish a simple rock beat and then complicate matters with layers of melody and elastic tempos. In this way he accommodates the bluntest rhythms as well as the most abstract jamming on a single song, and the contrast gives the band much of its punch. Beyond that, Numbers sail along on the fluid and arresting solos of their several Chicago jazz veterans. Local listeners have heard front-line partners Jim Gailloreto (saxes) and Dave Onderdonk (guitar) work together in the bands led by Fred Simon, in which they interpret a far less confrontational brand of composition; turned loose on the hard stuff, they pummel and probe and stop the show. On keyboards, Gordon James proves empathetic and, if anything, a bit too constrained in his exploitation of the electronic sounds at his disposal. I'd love to hear him open up a few more timbral jewel boxes, and there's plenty of room for that in the mix, since Haebich has chosen to anchor the proceedings on acoustic bass rather than the more expectable bass guitar. Sunday and next Sunday, May 19, 9:30 PM, Martyrs, 3855 N. Lincoln; 404-9494. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul Nakin.

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