The shopworn term is "free improvisation," but to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, no improvisation is free for the musician who wants to do a good job. Meaningful escape from chord structure and set rhythm requires disciplined players who really listen to each other and can find their way across trackless lands without making asses of themselves. The Tuesdays-in-August "Head Exam" series at HotHouse, which enables the curious to eavesdrop on "conversations" between some Chicago artists who know how to improvise coherently and intelligently, is presented in a commendably structured format. After a first set by a trio of featured players, other musicians join in for carefully matched duo and trio combinations. When all is running right, we get to witness the spontaneous birth of miniature musical worlds, live onstage. This week's featured artists owe as much to the European avant-garde as to American jazz: Bass clarinetist Gene Coleman of Ensemble Noamnesia pokes about inquisitively, his restrained yet assertive staccato bursting periodically into eerie harmonic wails. Don Meckley of Liof Munimula uses short-wave radios to painstakingly select and steal sounds from the world airwaves, which he then wrenches electronically to get big washes of lovely (and often humorous) noise. Guitarist Jim O'Rourke, with several CDs out both solo and with Henry Kaiser, jams rubber bands and pieces of cardboard under his strings to make his instrument jabber with pliant wit. These three will be joined in the second set by bassist Tatsu Aoki, percussionist Damon Short, and woodwindist Ken Vandermark--who are also all very much at home with this sort of thing. Tuesday, 8 PM, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Debra E. Levie, Marc PoKempner.

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