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By my count there are only a couple people who play improvised music on the analog synthesizer at a consistently high level; namely, Thomas Lehn and Chicago’s own Jim Baker. It’s an unwieldy, temperamental instrument, a keyboard saddled with patch cords and knobs that make it next to impossible to play the same note twice, even when the player knows the machine intimately.
I haven’t heard enough from Stephen Rush, an associate music professor at the University of Michigan, to put him in the company of Lehn and Baker, but with the trio Yuganaut—with percussionist Geoff Mann and bassist Tom Abbs—he’s certainly making a case for himself. Last year the group released This Musicship (Block), a beguiling mix of free improvisation and loose, intensely rhythmic compositions by all three members, with Rush’s slippery squiggles out front. Sometimes Rush plays genuine chords on the Fender Rhodes, but more often than not he’s ditching conventional harmony altogether, unleashing a furious spew of synthetic wheezing and whining over the turbulent grooves of his partners. All three members play other instruments here and there—including cornet, recorder, violin, vibes, and tuba, usually in loose, ritual-like flurries—but it’s the high velocity roar of piercing, rubbery electronic tones that’s most interesting to my ears.
Yuganaut plays Friday at the Mercury Cafe, sharing the bill with Weave, the multi-disciplinary project of Chicago’s Sarah Weaver, and the Stir Quartet, a newish free jazz quartet with saxophonist Jim Ryan, bassist Joel Wanek, trumpeter Daniel Godston, and percussionist Jerome Bryerton. The show starts at 7:30 PM.