Music » Music Feature

Our guide to the Umbrella Music Festival

Five nights of the finest avant-garde jazz in the world: Tim Berne, Ab Baars, John Butcher, Odean Pope, Mary Halvorson, and many more


Mary Halvorson - AMANI WILLETT
  • Amani Willett
  • Mary Halvorson

Every year the Umbrella Music Festival presents a diverse array of cutting-edge jazz and improvisation from across Europe, the U.S., and of course Chicago, and its sixth installment demonstrates the kind of broad, deep vision that has made it one of the best new-music events in the country, large or small. It kicks off with a two-night fest within a fest called European Jazz Meets Chicago on Wednesday and Thursday, November 2 and 3, and then carries on through Sunday with concerts at each of the regular Umbrella Music venues: the Hideout, which hosts the Immediate Sound series on Wednesdays; Elastic, which hosts an improvised-­music series on Thursdays; and the Hungry Brain, which hosts the Transmission series on Sundays. Nearly everything on the schedule is worth checking out—including a Saturday set at the Hideout by bass clarinetist Jason Stein and his trio Locksmith Isidore, which also includes bassist Jason Roebke and New York drummer Mike Pride, and a rare solo performance by effusive postbop drummer Matt Wilson on Sunday at the Hungry Brain—and I'm particularly looking forward to the six sets I've written up in detail below.

Wednesday, November 2

Chicago Cultural Center

Hans-Peter Pfammatter Trio | 6:30 PM Preston Bradley Hall
Swiss pianist Hans-Peter Pfammatter plays with reedist Keefe Jackson and bassist Jason Roebke.

Gerard Lebik Quartet | 7:15 PM Claudia Cassidy Theater
Polish saxophonist Gerard Lebik plays with trumpeter Jaimie Branch, bassist Anton Hatwich, and drummer Marc Riordan.

Franz Hautzinger - CLARA ZALAN

Franz Hautzinger Group | 8 PM Preston Bradley Hall
Back in the late 90s, Austrian trumpeter Franz Hautzinger adapted a radical approach to improvisation: he began playing a quarter-tone horn and focused almost exclusively on the unpitched sounds of his inhaled and exhaled breaths moving through the instrument. Close miking gave them a rich harmonic presence, and Hautzinger's stunning precision and mouthpiece control produced a veritable symphony of beats, whispers, and abstract shapes. Still, there was a studied quality to that work, and in recent years Hautzinger has begun using more conventional trumpet sounds. Yet on his 2007 solo album Gomberg II—Profile (Loewenhertz) he remains a sonic investigator, using electronics and a wide array of extended techniques to create pulsing, coloristic explorations. He delivers a more visceral sound, combining those past and present interests on Close Up (Monotype), a terrific free-improv session with reedist Bertran Gauget and analog-synth wizard Thomas Lehn. Tonight Hautzinger is joined by two locals, Dave Rempis on reeds and Nick Butcher on electronics.

Sophia Domancich Trio | 8:45 PM Claudia Cassidy Theater
Early in her jazz career, starting in the mid-80s, French pianist Sophia Domancich worked with figures from England's progressive-rock scene, collaborating with the likes of Elton Dean, John Greaves, and Hugh Hopper of Henry Cow and Pip Pyle of Hatfield & the North. You can hear that legacy on last year's Snakes and Ladders (Cristal), a song-oriented outing with vocals by Greaves and Robert Wyatt, with Domancich playing lots of Fender Rhodes. She's also a superb improviser, whether stretching out with the rhythm section of Hamid Drake and William Parker on 2009's Washed Away (Marge) or playing pithy, harmonically ambiguous compositions on Free 4 (Cristal), an outing that pairs her limber trio DAG with American saxophonist Dave Liebman. Based on what I've heard so far, she carefully adapts her approach according to context and collaborators, so I'm curious to hear what will happen here—she'll perform with a Chicago rhythm section consisting of bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Avreaayl Ra.

Ab Baars Quartet | 9:30 PM Randolph Street Cafe
Brilliant Dutch reedist Ab Baars has been a frequent visitor to Chicago, both with his own groups and as a member of the mighty ICP Orchestra. Tonight he leads a top-notch local band (drummer Mike Reed, vibist Jason Adasiewicz, and trombonist Jeb Bishop) through a program of his typically lean, rigorous originals. On last year's masterful solo effort, Time to Do My Lions (Wig), he sounds more focused and efficient than ever.

Thursday, November 3

Chicago Cultural Center

Jan Maksimowicz Quartet | 6:30 PM Claudia Cassidy Theater
Lithuanian saxophonist Jan Maksimowicz performs with fellow reedist David Boykin, bassist Joshua Abrams, and drummer Tim Daisy.

Ramon Lopez/Jim Baker Duo | 7:15 PM Preston Bradley Hall
Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez pairs up with Chicago pianist Jim Baker.

Francesco Bigoni Trio | 8 PM Claudia Cassidy Theater
Reedist Francesco Bigoni, born in Ferrera, Italy, in 1982, has been whirlwind busy for the past decade, playing in a dizzying variety of contexts with impressive sensitivity and historical perspective. Based on what I've heard, the common threads connecting all his work are an infectious exuberance, a deft adaptability, and a wealth of ideas. On the recent You Can Never Please Anybody (Aut), which he recorded as part of the reed trio Crisco 3, he and his partners alternately play sharp contrapuntal lines (making more music than you might expect from three horns) and engage precisely with textured abstractions. Oh, and they cover two songs by the Shaggs. Bigoni is now studying music in Copenhagen, where he formed the trio Hopscotch with guitarist Mark Solborg and drummer Kevin Brow, and their self-titled debut (released by ILK) veers from astringent atmospherics to violent collisions of high-energy blowing and hard-rock rhythm. Perhaps most germane to Bigoni's Chicago debut—he'll play here with two locals, bassist Jake Vinsel and drummer Frank Rosaly—is his improvising trio Headless Cat. On the terrific 2009 album Blind Tail (El Gallo Rojo) this buoyant, hard-driving group moors even its most outward-bound excursions with a deep grasp of jazz fundamentals.

Sten Sandell | 8:45 PM Preston Bradley Hall
Swedish pianist Sten Sandell plays solo.

Thomas Heberer
  • Thomas Heberer

Thomas Heberer's Clarino | 9:30 PM Randolph Street Cafe
Trumpeter Thomas Heberer, best known to Chicagoans through his regular visits as a member of the ICP Orchestra, represents Germany tonight—though he lives in New York, as do the other members of his trio Clarino, Belgian reedist Joachim Badenhorst and French-German bassist Pascal Niggenkemper. On the recent Klippe (Clean Feed) they use Heberer's "Cookbook" system of notation, in which established rules govern parameters like density, pulse, and duration in order to guide the players in the improvised creation of discrete ideas and phrases, which they memorize on the fly and reintroduce later in the piece, sometimes identically and sometimes altered. This allows the trio to play chamberlike pieces that flit spontaneously from coloristic abstraction to darting melodies, engaging in fluid, empathetic dialogue, but that nonetheless suggest graspable structures via the unpredictable return of established elements.

Add a comment