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MARVIN TATE'S D-SETTLEMENT 1/5, SCHUBAS Marvin Tate has been a fixture on the Chicago poetry scene since the early 90s, and has made a name for himself in New York as well, appearing at A-list venues like the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and with A-list stars like Amiri Baraka. Like Baraka, he knows the rewards and frustrations of moving as a poet among musicians and has struggled with how best to integrate himself as an instrument into a band--in his case a cookin' 11-piece funk orchestra. D-Settlement's idiosyncratic mix of Parliament-style funk, gospel, soul, blues, and trippy rock never sounds like pat backup, but on the group's most recent full-length, The Minstrel Show, it never overwhelms the verbal component either. A lot of groups try to create their own niche (or claim that they have); this is one of the few that's made that itchy singularity look like a comfortable place to live. FROGS, EVIL BEAVER 1/5, EMPTY BOTTLE Last time I saw the Frogs at the Bottle, Jimmy Flemion's big silver wings were looking a little moth-eaten and saggy, and the crowd was sparse and unemotive but for one constant heckler, who assured me he was doing it to inspire the band. It was sad--a band of such potent bile and brilliant awfulness should never be seen just pumpin' 'em out on an off night. Critics have yet to come to a consensus on whether these cranky Milwaukee brothers are dead excellent soulful satirists or offensive novelty-act crap, but perhaps what makes them a truly great band is that they're both. They're almost always referred to as a "gay supremacist duo," thanks to 1989's It's Only Right and Natural, on which guitarist Jimmy and drummer Dennis presented themselves as incestuous gay lovers, but though they've released two more albums and an EP in the past half decade or so, their most famous record is still the intensely ugly 1993 concept album Racially Yours, on which they explore black/white acrimony with all the delicacy of a drunk Zamboni driver. It was supposed to be brought to light about five years ago by the Seattle indie El Recordo, but the label wanted to own it "in perpetuity," so the band wisely held out for a solid offer that wouldn't mean risking the permanent disappearance of the album. This year they finally got one, from local upstart Four Alarm Recordings, and Racially Yours has now officially been unleashed. Four Alarm is also home to the gregarious postmetal dyke-rock duo Evil Beaver, who recently released their debut CD, Lick It; though they've only been around for a little over a year, they've built a devoted following with their lusciously raucous stage show. HIM 1/6, EMPTY BOTTLE Our Point of Departure (Perishable), the latest full-length from Doug Scharin's Him project, doesn't do much to mitigate my reservations about the swelling traffic in well-crafted but conceptually bereft sub-Miles soundscapes. Scharin--this time with fellow June of 44 vets Fred Erskine and Sean Meadows, reedist Carlo Cennamo (who plays with Erskine in the Boom), and Golden drummer Jon Theodore--covers some of the same improv-electronics-fusion turf as the superior Isotope 217, but approaches it as though the tradition were a textbook to read and regurgitate for a grade. If I were Robert Christgau, I'd give it a B minus. TEKULVI 1/8, EMPTY BOTTLE This local quartet's self-released debut, Who Knows Where We Are, is a rich, lush, accomplished helping of Chicago-style soundscape rock. Vocals are treated casually when they appear at all, integrated into the mix and perhaps unduly humble, but the two guitars gently weep (on "Objects May Be Closer Than They Appear") and fiercely burble (on "Eephus") with equal effectiveness. ROSENBERG SKRONKTET 1/10, EMPTY BOTTLE A relatively recent transplant from San Francisco, reedist Scott Rosenberg spent most of 2000 busting his ass on behalf of a new generation of Chicago workaholic improvisers. On top of his own prolific work--composing as well as playing--he operates a small label, Barely Auditable, and a very small venue, Brick House. He's best known around here for small-group or solo work--Barely Auditable just released his duets record with Anthony Braxton, Compositions/Improvisations 2000--but his newest project, the Skronktet, is a quintet with himself on woodwinds, Jerry Bryerton and Steve Butters on percussion, Kyle Bruckmann (whose solo debut came out on Barely Auditable last year) on oboe and English horn, and violinist Jenn Claire Paulsen. Like Braxton, Rosenberg aims to erase the increasingly faint line between jazz and experimental music; these players, who are well versed in 20th-century classical, should be game for the challenge.

--Monica Kendrick

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