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The List: March 3-March 9

Music Critics' Choices and other notable shows: Barrington Levy, Resonance Ensemble, American Heritage, Iron & Wine, Janet Jackson, the Ex, Nels Cline, Rafael Toral, and more

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>Critic's Choice< Barrington Levy

Resonance Ensemble

Kurt Rosenwinkel Group

Tiger Bones


>Critic's Choice< American Heritage

Nicole Atkins

>Critic's Choice< Iron & Wine

Junk Culture

Kurt Rosenwinkel Group



Junk Culture

Kurt Rosenwinkel Group


Rodney Crowell

Junk Culture

>Critic's Choice< Resonance Ensemble

Kurt Rosenwinkel Group


>Critic's Choice< Janet Jackson


>Critic's Choice< the Ex

>Critic's Choice< Janet Jackson


>Critic's Choice< Nels Cline, Dave Rempis, Devin Hoff, and Frank Rosaly

>Critic's Choice< Janet Jackson

>Critic's Choice< Rafael Toral


BARRINGTON LEVY In the mid-70s, Jamaican studios were hot on the heels of the dub revolution, which tore rootsy rockers-style reggae apart and launched it into the far reaches of the cosmos—largely through the efforts of mad-scientist producers willing to use mixing boards and delay effects in ways that would make more conservative engineers blanch. But the arrival of drum machines, synthesizers, and samplers in the late 70s caused a second sea change. The new technology had the effect of stripping even more rules from an already fairly lawless style, and dub producers and their descendants quickly began using it to mash together disparate sounds like rockabilly, faux exotica, and early rap. Barrington Levy made his name in the early 80s, during the formative years of what became known as dancehall, and his approach to vocals—a fascinating pileup of singing, rapping, and tongue-twisting gibberish—reflects the nascent genre's anarchic energy. In America he's best known for contributing to Shyne's 2000 gangsta-rap banger, "Bad Boyz." But listeners who find themselves hypnotized by Levy's hooky, hyperspeed scatting would do well to check out his early efforts, like 1984's Here I Come. The Itals open. 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 866-448-7849, $25, $22.50 in advance, 17+. —Miles Raymer

RESONANCE ENSEMBLE See Sunday. Members of the ensemble will improvise in three small groups: first a trio of bassist Devin Hoff, reedist Mikolaj Trzaska, and drummer Michael Zerang; then a duo of drummer Tim Daisy and reedist Ken Vandermark; and finally an ad hoc combination or two. The Hideout hosts a similar show Wed 3/2 with the Reed Trio (Vandermark, Trzaska, and Waclaw Zimpel), another ad hoc group, and Inner Ear (Daisy, Trzaska, trombonist Steve Swell, and tubaist Per-Ake Holmlander).  10 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-772-3616, $10. —Peter Margasak

KURT ROSENWINKEL GROUP On his most recent album, Our Secret World (Word of Mouth Music), guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel feasts upon seven richly inventive orchestrations of his own tunes by three associates of Portuguese big band Orquestra de Jazz de Matosinhos. Their arrangements don't merely adapt Rosenwinkel's compositions for a large group; instead, they throw new angles, fresh counterpoint, and reharmonized parts at the guitarist. For a player like Rosenwinkel, who's at his best when exploring the outer edges of harmony, this reinvention presented the ultimate opportunity. "I feel like I'm inside a Cubist painting of my own song," he wrote in the album's liner notes. For this local engagement he'll perform in a small group with more familiar collaborators (pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Ben Street, and drummer Ted Poor), but his improvisations should still burrow into every chord, looking for something new. See also Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct., 312-360-0234, $20. —Peter Margasak

TIGER BONES Local four-piece Tiger Bones (formerly Gay Baby) formed around the core of drummer Michael Renaud and guitarist Jay Ranz, both veterans of Violins (formerly Clyde Federal). This is a release party for their debut EP, Go Over Here (Dedd Foxx), and it's a very auspicious introduction. Though to my knowledge no one has ever called the postpunk sound delimited by the Wire and the Cure "sunny," Tiger Bones manage to bring a garagey surf vibe to that cold, brooding atmosphere—it's enough to make you picture pale goths with black parasols on the beach, getting high enough to like it without giving up their passion for the sinister undertone. And they underline the point with the EP's last song, "Transmission (Nilsson Edit)," a fairly brilliant mashup of Joy Division and Harry Nilsson that transcends its jokiness with unsettling perfection. Village opens. 10 PM, the Whistler, 2421 N. Milwaukee, 773-227-3530. —Monica Kendrick


AMERICAN HERITAGE On the brand-new Sedentary (Translation Loss), American Heritage's first album in five years, the local four-piece don't entirely abandon the rifftastic metal cathedral that also houses their buddies in Mastodon and Baroness. (It was recorded while they were between bassists, and Mastodon's Bill Kelliher tracked some bass and guitar.) But with its punishing two-minute opener, "Sickening Rebellion," the album dishes out a swift, steel-toed kick to the crotch, and for every melodic, intricately constructed saga, there's a blast of thrashing fury like "Kiddie Pool of Baby Blood" or "Fetal Attraction," saturated with the nastiness of old-school hardcore punk a la Discharge and Poison Idea. This cycling between burners and epics makes for a record much more pleasant and satisfying than either a nonstop ragefest or a proggy labyrinth. American Heritage formed in 1997 and have been killing it for well over a decade, which requires lots of fortitude and more than a little self-indulgence. Or, as vocalist-guitarist Adam Norden puts it in the band's PR material, "Our restlessness keeps us going. We still come at it with a midwestern punk aesthetic—get up onstage, burn it up, and get loaded." A-fucking-men, dude. Sweet Cobra headlines; American Heritage and Enabler open. 9:30 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, 773-281-4444 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Kevin Warwick

Nicole Atkins - DANNY CLINCH

NICOLE ATKINS She's parted ways with her record label, a longtime live-in boyfriend, and her backing band since the release of her 2007 debut, Neptune City, and Brooklyn singer Nicole Atkins seems to have built up plenty of bitterness to bleed off on the new Mondo Amore (Razor & Tie). According to a recent New York Times story, she financed the sessions with gigs at unorthodox venues like the JetBlue terminal at JFK and the atrium of a Manhattan high-rise, and the new record is louder and tougher, setting her powerhouse wail in arrangements that recall classic-rock staples like Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. Yet as strong as her pipes are, she can sound shrill on the most aggressive material, which altogether dispenses with the slightly retro atmosphere of her first album. (That feel isn't completely missing from Mondo Amore, though—some of its best songs, like "You Were the Devil" and "War Is Hell," retain Neptune City's Roy Orbison-like richness.) Atkins is touring with a trio, and with any luck that stripped-down setting will keep the bombast in check. Cotton Jones and Pepper Rabbit open.  9:30 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $15, $13 in advance, 17+. —Peter Margasak

Iron & Wine - P. FERGUSON
  • P. Ferguson
  • Iron & Wine

IRON & WINE Singer-songwriter Sam Beam said his major-label debut was going to be a throwback to 70s soft rock, and he wasn't kidding. Though Iron & Wine's fourth full-length, Kiss Each Other Clean, is more burned-out-houseboat rock than yacht rock (particularly the Van Morrison-like "Glad Man Singing"), I can practically smell a haze of patchouli incense and see a Warner Brothers label spinning on a cheap turntable, even when I listen to it on iTunes. While you can count me among the fans who miss the pregnant whisper of Beam's earlier work, I like the slightly gritty slickness of this album's decadent arrangements. And Beam's lyrics remain full of stunning turns of phrase—both stunningly apt and stunningly baffling, born of a deep understanding of the rhythm of words. One could accuse him of playing it a bit safe on Kiss—particularly in light of the leap he took with 2007's The Shepherd's Dog (Sub Pop)—but I have faith that the audacity lacking on the album will emerge onstage. Eleventh Dream Day opens. 7:30 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800, sold out. —Monica Kendrick

JUNK CULTURE See Sunday. Girl Talk headlines; Max Tundra and Junk Culture open. 7 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, 773-276-1235, sold out.

KURT ROSENWINKEL GROUP See Thursday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct., 312-360-0234, $25.


BILAL In the late 90s, Philadelphian Bilal Oliver emerged as one of the most mercurial entrants in the neosoul sweepstakes. Neither slavishly old-school nor purely devoted to hip-hop, Bilal stuck out; early on he was drawn to jazz, and right from his 2001 debut, 1st Born Second (Interscope), there was something restless about his singing. Bilal found peers in the Soulquarians crew, a loose collective that included Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, Jay Dilla, Mos Def, and D'Angelo, who as a singer and writer shared his curiosity. But Bilal's career since 1st Born Second has been erratic—despite the backing of MCs and jazz artists (Terence Blanchard and Robert Glasper both featured him on their records), his follow-up for Interscope was shelved, and his second album, Airtight's Revenge (Plug Research), didn't come out till 2010. He fuels his heavy neosoul with off-kilter hip-hop breaks, their grooves consistently and seductively draggy. His singing is ferociously intense, whether soaring into a falsetto or sinking into a raspy growl—and on the album's high point, the storming jam "All Matter," it does both. DJ Mark Fullaflava spins. 9 PM, the Shrine, 2109 S. Wabash, 312-753-5700, $25. —Peter Margasak

JUNK CULTURE See Sunday. Girl Talk headlines; Max Tundra and Junk Culture open. Junk Culture also plays a free in-store today at 1 PM at Saki, 3716 W. Fullerton, 773-486-3997; Flower Man opens.  7 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, 773-276-1235, sold out.

KURT ROSENWINKEL GROUP See Thursday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct., 312-360-0234, $25.


RODNEY CROWELL Anyone who picks up Rodney Crowell's idiosyncratic new memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks (Knopf), hoping to read hundreds of pages about his life as a country-music star, his experiences writing for and collaborating with artists from Emmylou Harris to Bob Seger, his infamous cocaine habit, or his years as Johnny Cash's favorite former son-in-law (from a decade-plus marriage to Rosanne Cash) will be sorely disappointed. Crowell avoids the Behind the Music-style approach almost entirely; instead, he focuses on his relationship with his fascinatingly flawed parents and stories of growing up impoverished on the outskirts of Houston in the 50s and 60s. But that's not to say the book doesn't provide any insight into the musician he'd become—the chapters where he sees an early Johnny Cash concert and sits in with his hard-drinking dad's honky-tonk band make it pretty clear how he ended up as one of the keepers of Nashville's traditionalist conscience during its frequent periods of gaudy excess. 7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, sold out. —Miles Raymer

JUNK CULTURE The name of Deepak Mantena's collage-pop act is a clue to the kind of music he creates. Junk Culture crams a garage sale of sounds—brief piano loops, skronky horns, airy background synths, tambourines and bongos, hard-funk bass, cheesy keyboards that might as well come straight from a Super NES theme—into concise, hooky, danceable tunes filled with swirling melodies and precise beats. Mantena shares a label with Girl Talk, but on Junk Culture's recent EP, Summer Friends (Illegal Art), he doesn't use his more popular comrade's method of intertwining recognizable samples into a single fluid track. Here and there he borrows a snippet from another artist, but the bulk of the samples that make up Summer Friends come from him: field recordings he made during his day-to-day routine, bits of his own guitar or piano, even fully arranged tunes he wrote for traditional rock instruments. Mantena isn't the only artist to try to replicate the effect of mashups with original music, but he might be the first to capture the ecstatic energy of the hyped-up party jams that made Girl Talk such a sensation. Onstage Junk Culture is a duo, with a drummer to give Mantena's bouncy tunes extra kick. Spankalicious headlines; Junk Culture and WSK open. See also Friday and Saturday. Junk Culture plays a free in-store Sat 3/5 at 1 PM at Saki, 3716 W. Fullerton, 773-486-3997; Flower Man opens. 10 PM, Beauty Bar, 1444 W. Chicago, 312-226-8828. —Leor Galil

RESONANCE ENSEMBLE In the liner notes for the Resonance Ensemble's ten-CD 2009 debut, Resonance (Not Two), Chicago reedist and composer Ken Vandermark expresses wonderment at Nelson Riddle's opinion of Frank Sinatra's Only the Lonely. Riddle called it his favorite among the Sinatra albums he'd done arrangements for because he got an entire week to write the charts. Vandermark describes Resonance as his Only the Lonely: in fall 2007 he spent an entire week in an apartment in Krakow, Poland, with nothing to do but write and arrange music for this transcontinental tentet. Despite the difficulty of maintaining a large ensemble made up of players scattered over the globe, Resonance has emerged as the successor to Vandermark's previous large-group effort, the Territory Band. Its lineup includes trumpeter Magnus Broo and tubaist Per-Ake Holmlander (Sweden), reedists Mikolaj Trzaska and Waclaw Zimpel (Poland), bassist Mark Tokar (Urkaine), reedist Dave Rempis and drummers Tim Daisy and Michael Zerang (Chicago), and powerhouse trombonist Steve Swell (New York). As he did with the Territory Band, Vandermark uses the group's rare performance opportunities to rehearse and record new material. They'll play brand-new music for their local debut, which is only disappointing because it'd be great to hear the three excellent pieces off their new album, Kafka in Flight (Not Two). Recorded in October 2009 in Gdansk, Poland, they're built from musical modules, held together by extensive improvisation, that can be reordered each time they're performed. Tokar was denied his U.S. visa, but the very able Devin Hoff will fill in. The full group's two performances—one of which is in Milwaukee—are part of the five-day Resonance Festival, which began Wednesday; members will improvise in smaller ad hoc configurations Wed 3/2 and Thu 3/3. See also Thursday. 2 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. —Peter Margasak

KURT ROSENWINKEL GROUP See Thursday. 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct., 312-360-0234, $25.


Janet Jackson
  • Janet Jackson

JANET JACKSON is one of those performers whose work has been so ubiquitous for so long that it's easy to approach her songs collectively, as a single monumental feature of the pop-culture landscape, instead of as individual artistic achievements. Good thing there's her 2009 greatest-hits collection, Number Ones (UMe/A&M), which makes it easier to revisit her best work of the 80s and 90s with fresh ears. Lazy DJs haven't debased and exhausted her music like they have Prince's and her late brother Michael's, and Number Ones provides ample opportunities for astonishment. The songs where she embraces hard rock's muscularity and aggression ("Black Cat," "Nasty") are heavy as fuck. When she shoots for airy pop ("The Pleasure Principle," "Miss You Much," "That's the Way Love Goes"), her voice is so buoyant it makes you wonder if her feet touch the ground more than a few times a day. Her strong vision, her deep involvement in writing and producing, and her genuinely ballsy moves—like making Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814, a quasi-concept album fusing radio-friendly R&B and industrial-flavored dance music—make you wonder why so many people consider her a diva and not a serious artist. Mindless Behavior opens. See also Tuesday and Wednesday. 7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6300 or 866-448-7849, sold out. —Miles Raymer


THE EX Catch My Shoe (Ex Records), the Ex's 25th album since forming in 1979, is their first full-length with new singer Arnold de Boer, who replaced original front man G.W. Sok in 2009. No one can match Sok when it comes to agitprop hectoring, but that doesn't necessarily make de Boer a liability. The Ex had outgrown Sok, who kept doing what he always did even as his bandmates' interests proliferated—as they moved from art-punk into improvisation and explored international folk melodies, he was increasingly marginalized. De Boer lacks Sok's ferocity and ear for political nuance—the global-warming rant on "Cold Weather Is Back" is rather prosaic by Ex standards—but he's better able to render actual melodies and can add a third guitar to the group's sound. The Ex have often been able to use personnel shakeups to foment progressive change—when double bassist Rozemarie Heggen replaced Luc Klassen in 2003, she helped open up the improv angle, and when she left in 2005, Andy Moor and Terrie Hessels started using baritone guitars to fill in the band's low end. Catch My Shoe is the clearest expression yet of the Ex's immersion in African music, which began more than a decade ago: the album's opener, ," derives its skittering three-guitar riff from an old Ugandan song; the rudely chiming guitars on "Double Order" mimic the distorted likembes of Konono No. 1; and "Eoleyo" (sung by drummer Katherina Bornefeld) is a traditional tune the band first heard on a cassette by Ethiopian star Mahmoud Ahmed. Italian trumpeter Roy Paci multitracks tart, martial trumpet lines on a couple of songs—he joined Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson, and Wolter Wierbos last year in the horn section of the band's Brass Unbound project—but the heart of the music remains the busy, regimental throb of Bornefeld's drumming and Hessels and Moor's jagged, puzzle-piece guitars. Opening the show are Follows, Vandermark (who'll join the Ex for a few songs), and Zerfu Demissie, one of many artists Hessels has exposed to the West via his Terp label. Demissie plays a type of lyre called the begena, aka the Harp of King David, and on the cover of his album Akotet he's pictured with an especially large model, as big as a car door topped with a canopy bed's headboard; its wild, buzzy twang gives an otherworldly flair to his mesmerizing vocal melodies. 8 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $15, 18+. —Peter Margasak

JANET JACKSON See Monday. Mindless Behavior opens.  7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6300 or 866-448-7849, sold out. 


NELS CLINE, DAVE REMPIS, DEVIN HOFF, AND FRANK ROSALY Most Chicagoans who recognize the name Nels Cline probably know him from Wilco, but last year this veteran LA guitarist—aggressive, fearless, focused, and economical—repped his jazz bona fides and stylistic versatility in a big way. For the sprawling, ambitious Dirty Baby, a multimedia project conceived by poet and producer David Breskin to celebrate some of Ed Ruscha's "censor strip" paintings, he wrote widely varied music for a sizable crew of collaborators. To accompany the painter's "silhouette" series, a kind of cryptic history of the country told through hazy black images and blank bars (aka censor strips) he composed an extended suite; for the decidedly abstract "cityscape" series he wrote a series of 33 one- to two-minute vignettes. Equally ambitious and wide-ranging is Initiate (like Dirty Baby, a double CD on the Cryptogramophone label), the latest release by his long-running trio the Nels Cline Singers. The studio-recorded half of Initiate evokes the peaks of Miles Davis's early-70s electric period or the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti, in both cases radically transformed by Cline's pedal-hopping extrapolations, which draw on free jazz, fusion, metal, psychedelia, and more. Both projects feature muscular bassist Devin Hoff, who retired from the Singers after moving to Chicago last year. Cline and Hoff will be joined by a pair of local mainstays, reedist Dave Rempis and percussionist Frank Rosaly, for two sets of fully improvised music. Doug McCombs spins. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433, $10. —Peter Margasak

JANET JACKSON See Monday. Mindless Behavior opens.  7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6300 or 866-448-7849, sold out. 

RAFAEL TORAL When Portuguese sound artist Rafael Toral last played in Chicago, he gave a solo recital to introduce a jazz-inspired approach to electronic music that he calls the Space Program. He named it both for its sonics, which recall the soundtrack of Forbidden Planet and the robot chatter from Star Wars, and for the palpable silences—the spaces—that surround each gesture. Six years and three collaborative albums later, he's developed his program into a viable mode of improvisational discourse. Toral's instrumental arsenal includes personal inventions and hot-wired consumer electronics like the Bender (a modified Fender Mini Twin); their inherent instability guarantees that he never knows exactly what sounds will come out. Despite this limitation, Toral plays them with a laconic sense of timing and an instinct for linear development that make me think of Steve Lacy—that is, if Lacy had played the ray gun instead of the saxophone. In the company of sympathetic musicians, in particular fantastic Angolan percussionist Cesar Burago, Toral's music acquires a humid, jungle vibe. Tonight he'll play with two locals, keyboardist Jim Baker and drummer Steve Hunt; Green Pasture Happiness opens. Toral also performs with bassist Darin Gray and percussionist Michael Zerang at Heaven Gallery on Saturday, March 12. 9:30 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-772-3616, $8 suggested donation. —Bill Meyer

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