Rhys Chatham's Essentialist, Jandek | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Rhys Chatham's Essentialist, Jandek 

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For years composer and guitarist RHYS CHATHAM has labored in the shadow of his onetime colleague Glenn Branca, whose name is practically synonymous with symphonic music scored for massed electric guitars. But Chatham was doing it first, and thanks to an ongoing series of reissues and new releases from Table of the Elements, he's finally getting his due. He created huge, flowing washes of sound whose monolithic surfaces belied their densely detailed depths, which swarmed with overtones produced by cranking up oddly tuned electric guitars--just three players could sound like a full orchestra. His classic 1977 composition Guitar Trio uses simple, steadily mounting riffs and a straightforward rock rhythm section, but it's also a study in microtonal harmonies and other acoustic phenomena, interests he picked up from minimalist pioneers like La Monte Young. It laid the foundation for much of what New York's no-wave scene would produce, from the dissonant art-punk of Sonic Youth to the atonal throb of Ut. The Table of the Elements series includes stunning later works like the surging Die Donnergotter ("The Thunder Gods") and the 1989 masterpiece An Angel Moves Too Fast to See, for 100 guitars--but pointedly leaves out the brass-based recordings where Chatham dabbles in dance beats, made after he moved to Paris in 1987. Forthcoming are A Crimson Grail, a new piece for 400 guitars, and the debut album from his brand-new quintet, ESSENTIALIST, which includes a bassist, drummer, and three guitarists--among them David Daniell of the trio San Agustin. The band had only just played its first shows at press time, but the PR materials claim Chatham is applying his signature approach to the minimal doom metal of Earth, Sleep, and Sunn 0))). --Peter Margasak

Since 1978 someone known only as JANDEK has been quietly releasing records on a label out of Houston called Corwood Industries, each in a simple white sleeve with a blurry snapshot on the front--there are 47 to date, including four this year. The stark, apparently unstructured songs are like atonal country blues pumped directly from the brain stem of a madman: Jandek favors desolate moaning and detuned guitar that sound like they've been transmitted from a billion miles away. A fellow named Sterling R. Smith endorses the checks sent to Corwood, but few other hints about who Jandek might be emerged until October 2004, when a man resembling the one pictured on many Jandek covers made an unbilled appearance at a Glasgow festival, referring to himself as "a representative from Corwood Industries." Since then he's performed sporadically, both with other musicians and alone, most often on electric or acoustic guitar but sometimes on piano, bass, harmonica, or even drums. He's made no announcements about the lineup for his Chicago debut, but saying this set is auspicious is like saying the Great Wall of China is long. --J. Niimi

Tim Hecker headlines, Jana Hunter plays third, Essentialist goes on second, and Jandek opens. This show is part of Adventures in Modern Music, a festival curated by British music magazine the Wire and the Empty Bottle; see page 40 for a complete schedule. Wed 9/20, 8 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15.

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