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Tuesday, December 12

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Feature Thu Apr 05 2007

Chicago Jazz Reviews: Found and Heard Locally

It should come as no surprise that some of Chicago's best jazz is being churned out at an astounding pace by both giants and newcomers alike. While some of what we like is brought into town for an infusion of our inner bop spirit, much of what's coming out from local labels like Atavistic and bands themselves, is really a sign that great improvisational music is alive and well in the city of big shoulders. This week, two Transmission reviewers give you their take on tasty licks they've heard both live and locally and direct from the studio. If our stuttering Chicago spring has got you reaching for the headphones and some new tunes, you'll definitely want to read on, then grab these five notable jazz albums.

At the release party for this album last month at the Park West, Kurt Elling took a break between songs and looked at the audience. "If you haven't noticed," he said, "This is the kinder and gentler Kurt Elling." He went on to say that his earlier work often typecast him as young and brash to critics and fans, and totally unlike the person he was now. After the birth of his daughter little more than a year ago, and his move from jazz label grande Blue Note to Concord Records, his declaration was revealing of where he may pilot future efforts. So, new listeners and old fans wonder, where was this new album going?

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His first Concord Records release, Nightmoves is his first Concord effort. The theme of this album is sort of a "nocturnal soundtrack," as Elling put it. "Best to be played after midnight and ending when the sun begins to throw rays across the eastern horizon." In fact, the effort begins with "Nightmoves" and end with "I Like The Sunrise."

Over six previous albums, fans and critics have come to expect two things from Elling. Besides his usual propensity to try "out of the box" material, as well as a sense of the ballad and of the love song, there has always been a vibe best termed as beat and cool, most often addressed by the use of beat poetry and scatting, and of numerous forays into vocalese. Vocalese, as defined by the "Father of Vocalese," living legend John Hendricks, is "the art of setting lyrics to recorded jazz instrumental standards (such as the big band arrangements of Duke Ellington and Count Basie), then arranging voices to sing the parts of the instruments." The torch of vocalese flies high and flutters with his interpretations of the work of Wayne Shorter, Irving Berlin, and Duke Ellington, along with outside the box workings of Betty Carter, Frank Sinatra, and a nod to The Guess Who's 1969 hit "Undun," his version ends up reworking it into something, well, different.

The vocalese remains, but the beat persona may be on the wane, as Kurt eschews much of the scatting and poetical spoken word that's made an appearance on many of his past recordings, going instead for more conventional ballads and love songs. That isn't to say that he's made his sound more pop; the vocalese on exhibit on this album approaches the level of effort on previous work, but he's right. He's indeed kinder and gentler.

Depending on how you like your vocal jazz, this album can either fulfill your expectations or be disappointing. Those used to absorbing demonstrations of Elling's vocal power and mastery of the scale won't have much to hold on to, as he stays on a pretty even keel for the approximately 61 minutes of play time. New fans may get more enjoyment out of this album, if just for the fact that they may not be aware of the not so kind, not so gentle Kurt Elling. Listeners can't fault a man for maturing, but a few reminders of what made him so endearing would have gone a long way.
-Troy Hunter


Chicago's Atavistic label keeps 'em coming this month with three notable releases that showcase how electricity can charge up modern creative music.

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First up, the Italian sax-bass-drums trio notorious for their fruitful, creative partnerships with the likes of Ken Vandermark, Dalek, Mike Patton and Fred Lonberg-Holm, this time teams up with Japanese DJ Nobukazu Takemura on Identification with the Enemy: A Key to the Underworld.

Sporting one of the tightest, most creative rhythm sections around, bassist Massimo Pupillo [who has such a huge, resonant bass guitar tone, at times it sounds like he's playing four tuned suspension bridge cables] and drummer Jacopo Battaglia steer the group through a set of driving instrumentals that delightfully fall between the stylistic cracks of jazz, rock and "other".

The most successful tracks are those that fully integrate the sonic and rhythmic interjections by Takemura where Zü can consume them whole. Tracks like "Alone with the Alone," "Awake in the Next Room," "Deliver Me From the New Self" and "New Buddhas in Stock" exemplify Zü's ability to mind-meld with their guest and fully integrate Nakemura's glitchy laptopperies. Other tracks like "The Culprit" were more Zü-oriented and Nakemura's fuzzy, billowy interjections wisely are subdued and provide a fine patina of electronic textures beneath the churning, tumultuous trio interplay.

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Next, Atavastic has dug up a lost gem in composer Glenn Branca's deep archive in the never-before-released Indeterminate Activity of Resultant Masses which features three wide-ranging tracks recorded in the 1980s.

The 31-minute title track showcases Branca's most famous compositional idea: composing long pieces for a bunch of retuned guitars and here features the composer himself along with Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth among the group's ten guitarists. The beautiful mass of resonant, reverberating guitar tones, which predate similar stylings by Sonic Youth, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and even Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky, sound even more majestic and compelling thanks to a recent remastering in 2005. The second track features composer John Cage (who always sounded like Truman Capote's cousin to me) giving his thoughts on his experience hearing the title track in 1982. Last, from 1989 the New York Chamber Sinfonia plays Branca's "Harmonic Series Chords." While newcomers would fare better with Branca's guitar-oriented works, for Branca fans this is a must-have.

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Last, Ken Vandermark hits us with a double shot of rock and funk-based originals on Powerhouse Sound – Oslo/Chicago Breaks.

Disc 1 features Vandermark in a quintet of the dueling basses of Nate McBride and Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, dynamic drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and electronics manipulator Lassse Marhaug running through seven originals which toast Hank Shocklee, King Tubby, Lee Perry and Burning Spear among others in the song titles. As always, Vandermark's ingenious, episodic tunes give the group plenty to chew on and rhythm, noise and texture reign supreme on this outing. Highlights include "King to Crown (for King Tubby)", "Coxonne (for Coxonne Dodd)," and the hellacious fuzz bass sparring on "New Dirt (for the Stooges)."

Disc 2 brings Vandermark and McBride back to Chicago to team up with Tortoise-ians Jeff Parker on guitar and John Herndon on drums. Vandermark lets the group interpret most of the same tunes from Disc 1 giving the listener a chance to compare the fascinating contrast in styles and improvisations between the two groups. Jeff Parker has never sounded more consistently visceral on record. He provides unison lines with Vandermark only to effortlessly shift gears to providing ape-shit yet congently-creative noisescapes within the span of a few bars on songs like "Coxonne," "Acid Scratch, pt. 2" and "King to Crown, pt. 1." Whew! Herndon's more of a pocket player than Nilssen-Love and he and McBride lock in nicely for the duration of the set. Heavy stuff. Guess we'll have to wait for Disc 3 which features all seven musicians in the same group, though.

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On a completely different tip, the self-released debut Up to Get Down by straight-ahead postbop quintet Jazz Conspiracy shows another side of younger Chicago jazzers.

Led by the confident and swinging horns of Thomas Mucha (trumpet) and Trent Harris (tenor saxophone), this tight group's set features a dozen varied originals that highlight the talents of each member without showboating or grandstanding. Especially fine are Harris's tenor work and pianist David Beazley's vibing Wurlitzer piano playing on the dark ballad "Clean and Clear," an original penned by bassist Marc Piane. Mucha contributes five tunes replete with sterling solos, including the neobop cooker "City Snap" and Latin boogaloo "The Conspiracy." Beazley also varies his McCoy Tyner-esque piano tracks with some crunchy Rhodes comping on "The Sound of Inevitability" and also contributes some refreshingly restrained and melodic solos on "Riverside Blues" and "Freddie's Groove." Definitely a group to catch live.
-Bob Holub

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
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