Witches & Devils | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Witches & Devils 

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WITCHES & DEVILS

The best reason to see Witches & Devils--wild-man reedist Mars Williams's homage to visionary saxist Albert Ayler--used to be the band's take on the unadorned folk-song melodies, extended harmonics, and guttural poetry of Ayler's widely influential mid-60s work. But these days Williams so rarely performs with his blood brother Ken Vandermark--the former's role as leader of Liquid Soul has been taking him on the road more and more, and several of the latter's recent projects don't use a two-reed front line--that the combination has become Witches & Devils' main attraction. The two hooked up in 1992, when Vandermark joined the NRG Ensemble (Williams had just taken the reins after the death of founder Hal Russell), and have since collaborated in a long list of each other's bands, as well as in a stark and effective duo called Cinghiale. When they do get together now, they're like Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis in the 50s or Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt in the 60s--two distinctive individuals brilliantly exploiting a single concept. They trade multiphonic-laden bursts, shriek in unison (or in something close to it), and challenge each other to dizzying heights of improvised abstraction. The Ayler tunes they'll focus on here have a primal simplicity that spans many cultures; their spirit is open and liberating, allowing both saxists to celebrate their hero's fierce passions not by imitating him but by using their own voices. Witches & Devils includes Jim Baker on keyboards, Steve Hunt on drums, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, and bassist Harrison Bankhead; this show celebrates the release of the band's first CD, a live set recorded back in '97 at the Bottle that features Kent Kessler subbing on bass. A quartet of Peter Brštzmann, Joe McPhee, and locals Chad Taylor and Noel Kupersmith headlines. Thursday, June 15, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

--NEIL TESSER

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

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