Best shows to see: Major Lazer, Branford Marsalis, James Hunter, and more

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James Hunter
  • Ruth Ward
  • James Hunter
Of course Reader critics have supplied a wealth of concert recommendations on Soundboard this week, as they always do, but as usual in this forum I'd like to point out some interesting shows that none of us have gotten around to writing about yet.

On Thursday vicious Brooklyn blackened doom-metal band Batillus plays at Ultra Lounge. On Friday Bun B, formerly half of rap duo UGK (RIP Pimp C), performs at the Shrine after a DJ set by Talib Kweli. The same evening the Lonesome Organist and the Black Bear Combo play what's sure to be a whimsical show at Township, and the
Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company comes to Pick-Staiger at Northwestern.

On Saturday the reunited Los Crudos—a leftist Latino hardcore band from Pilsen originally active in the 90s, when they attracted a devoted nationwide following—play two all-ages shows at Chitown Futbol (on Throop south of Cermak). Also that night, buzzed-about neo-R&B act Autre Ne Veut has a show at Schubas. On Sunday underground house kingpin Derrick Carter performs at Smart Bar, and Ben Harper brings venerable harmonica virtuoso Charlie Musselwhite (subject of an Artist on Artist last June) to the Riviera.

And we're not through yet—five more shows after the jump!

Thu 2/28: Ensemble dal Niente at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts

The centerpiece of this program is the Chicago premiere of the 2000 work In Vain by Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas, which according to Peter Margasak "recalls the explorations of French spectralist composers such as Gerard Grisey and Tristan Murail, who used computer analysis to map the multiple overtones contained in every instrumental timbre so that they could respond to and manipulate those subtleties in their work. Haas has accomplished a similarly magnificent play of harmonies without machine assistance, borrowing the microtonality of just intonation (among other harmonic languages) for a series of episodes that crawl between airy and claustrophobic and between light and dark. The piece also calls for dramatic stage lighting, which for much of the performance leaves the 24-piece ensemble, the conductor, and the audience in total darkness—focusing attention on the electric, hair-raising harmonies."

Fri 3/1: Branford Marsalis at North Central College

On Four MFs Playin’ Tunes as well as at this concert, saxophonist Branford Marsalis appears with his regular quartet. "They’re plugged into one another, and make the music sound almost effortless while operating at the highest technical level," writes Peter Margasak. "Everyone but drummer Justin Faulkner contributed compositions, but he exerts so much personality with his playing—a quicksilver swing, a funky sort of lurching drive—that he may as well have coauthored every track. And Eric Revis’s muscular bass style, which provides a durable and mobile armature for pianist Joey Calderazzo and Marsalis, radiates just as much character."

Sat 3/2: James Hunter at Lincoln Hall

"Like just about every previous album by British singer James Hunter, the new Minute by Minute could’ve been made in 1962—the year he was born," writes Peter Margasak. "Hunter plainly loves vintage Sam Cooke and James Brown, but the crisp, no-frills arrangements and indelible if familiar melodies of his hooky original tunes communicate such grit and soul that it’s easy to forgive him for being such a shameless throwback."

Sat 3/2: Major Lazer at Congress Theater

"Thomas Wesley 'Diplo' Pentz is the kind of superfamous musician everyone says they’d imitate if they got superfamous: make weird, noisy (albeit highly successful) songs for big-time pop stars by day, and promote even weirder underground music (through an eccentric record label and an astoundingly relentless DJ schedule) by night," writes Miles Raymer. "In his spare time Pentz heads up frenetic dancehall-EDM collective Major Lazer, which specializes in bringing together unlikely combinations of musicians to fantastically decadent ends. The upcoming Free the Universe features Bruno Mars, Wyclef Jean, Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman, techno superstar Laidback Luke, and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend collaborating on outrageous floor-filling tracks with a cast of dancehall artists who are as obscure in the States as they are legendary in Jamaica."

Sun 3/3: Paul Lewis at Symphony Center

"Lately British pianist Paul Lewis has devoted his energies to the piano music of Franz Schubert, specifically solo works from between 1822 and 1828," writes Peter Margasak. "At this performance—part of a season-long international tour—he’ll play the final three of the composer’s 21 sonatas. Lewis released a recording of numbers 20 and 21 in 2003, and both stand in stark contrast to the Schubert pieces he issued last fall. The composer’s health was failing as he struggled to complete these sonatas, and awareness of his impending death seems woven into their dark fabric: his usual structural rigor gives way at times to a kind of somber, cycling drift, with certain melodic ideas repeated numbly, or even to the total disappearance of discernible melody."

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