8 BOLD SOULS 1/29, HOTHOUSE On some nights HotHouse's new location in the South Loop suffers a few more chirping crickets than the club's old high-profile Wicker Park spot, but last Friday when 8 Bold Souls played, every table was surrounded by people who looked pleased to be there. It's heartening that this veteran jazz group can still pack 'em in after nearly a decade of frequent local gigging and sporadic recording--only three albums in all those years. Their own compositions, like "Light on the Path" and "Pachinko," give tenor saxophonist Ed Wilkerson, trombonist Isaiah Jackson, and reedist Mwata Bolden ample room to roam, but listen carefully for their secret weapon, cellist Naomi Millender: her lead-in to their arrangement of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" (which gets dipped in bittersweet New Orleans grandeur) is a real pin-drop moment. SMOG 1/29, OLD TOWN SCHOOL of folk music Many of us have just about had it with sensitive singer-songwriters, of which Smog, aka Bill Callahan, is definitely one. But the format isn't the problem. Mediocrity stands out sharply when the varnish is stripped away, but so does quality. Smog's latest outing, Knock Knock (Drag City) happens to be a collaborative--if uncredited--effort: note the sprightly strings and backing vocals fighting Callahan's countrified-Leonard Cohen intonations on "Hit the Ground Running" and the distinctive mournful peal of Loren MazzaCane Connors's guitar on "Sweet Treat." Ultimately, though, this stuff lives and dies by the measure of unity between singer and song, and by the time we get to the naked grief of "Left Only With Love," Callahan's startlingly clear snapshots leave us with the image not of some whiny postcollegiate yob unloading sitcom tragedies in a bar but of a real, three-dimensional person using all his wits and self-discipline to hang in there. At the Old Town School, you'll be able to hear the sound of one heart breaking on possibly the best sound system in Chicago. MADOU DEMBELE 1/30, 2334 W. Nelson I've witnessed the wonder of Malian djembe player Madou Dembele only on video, but even on my 13-inch screen the fluidity of his hands on the traditional West African drum is magical. Dembele has performed regularly with the first internationally known djembe master, Babatunde Olatunji, and spends a lot of time in New York, playing venues from the Guggenheim to wedding halls, both solo and with his group Super Yankadi. In his Chicago performance he'll join forces with the local West African dance and drum group Dahui, featuring Michael Taylor, the Old Town School instructor who runs the "Haunt of the Holy Goat" drum circle on Montrose Harbor every Sunday morning when the weather's warm. Dembele will also be teaching workshops on Friday evening and all afternoon both Saturday and Sunday. SINEAD LOHAN 1/30, DOUBLE DOOR Everyone's gotta get some of that irresistible ear candy from time to time. Last year this Irish chanteuse's "No Mermaid" lodged in my head, and I didn't immediately order it to leave. It held up on repeat, too, with its smart twist on carpe diem, Celtic-inflected surge and sweep, and tinges of swiped exoticism--Lohan sounds like Loreena McKennitt with a good editor. Of course none of the rest of the likable poet pop on her U.S. debut, also called No Mermaid (Interscope), is quite as good, but does it really need to be? MICHAEL SNOW 2/1, school of the ART INSTITUTE Canadian polyglot Michael Snow once wrote for an exhibition catalog: "I am not a professional. My paintings are done by a filmmaker, sculpture by a musician, films by a painter, music by a filmmaker, paintings by a sculptor, sculpture by a filmmaker, films by a musician, music by a sculptor...sometimes they all work together. Also many of my paintings have been done by a painter, sculptures by a sculptor, films by a filmmaker, music by a musician." Snow, not a bad writer either, has little respect for false purity, preferring to study the complex relationships between art forms in a hands-on manner lost to specialists. His 1964 film New York Eye and Ear Control was meant to interact with its famous sound track by Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, John Tchicai, Gary Peacock, Sunny Murray, and Roswell Rudd (issued separately on ESP); and his 1975 double album Musics for Piano, Whistling, Microphone and Tape Recorder featured long, dense liner notes that engaged the listener in an argument about, among other things, the practice of reading while listening to music. In addition to a very long list of films and visual art exhibitions, he's performed all over the world with the improv group CCMC. Here Snow will show his new short film Au Revoir, premiere some selections from the forthcoming three-CD set 3 Phases: Snow Piano Solo Piano Snow (Avatar), and discuss the role of improvisation in contemporary arts. OLIVIA BLOCK 2/4, HOTHOUSE Austin transplant Olivia Block is an electroacoustic composer who likes to dance along the dividing line between the natural and the artificial: her latest CD, Pure Gaze (Sedimental), focuses on ambient sounds like gushing water and engines and static, so when a sound conventionally recognized as "musical"--strings, horns, organ--enters, it's startling enough to make the memory retrace the last few minutes of the piece, calling into question the ordering of all the sounds. Block is self-taught, and she's honed her skills with rock bands, improv collectives, and sound-track work. This CD-release-party performance will feature the collaborations of Jeb Bishop, Kyle Bruckmann, Ernst Long, John Robbins, and Jason Thor. QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE 2/4, double door Bandleader Josh Homme's previous combo, Kyuss, helped make "stoner rock," uh, respectable again. This outfit's debut full-length, released in the fall on Stone Gossard's Loosegroove label, suffers from some flat post-post-post-Ozzy singing, but there are some choice riffs to back up that artistic choice. And though Sabbath and Bob Mould are the obvious influences, the Queens also claim to be fans of Can, and that's plausible too. --Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Madou Dembele uncredited photo.