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There are more than enough attractions in Milwaukee to make the short trip worthwhile any day of the year, but this weekend there's plenty of extra incentive. Okka Disk, the superb free-jazz label started in Chicago by Bruno Johnson, is celebrating its 15th anniversary and throwing a little festival with music by many of its artists.
Chicago's jazz and improvised-music scene is so busy these days that it's easy to forget how different things were when Okka Disk emerged--it was a reliable outlet for what were then new developments, releasing many key early works by Ken Vandermark. Just as important, the label was partly responsible for Fred Anderson's late-career renaissance; in a few short years Okka helped the tenor saxophonist double the size of his discography.
Johnson moved to Milwaukee in 2002 with his wife, Adrienne Pierluissi, to open a bar, following a long and fruitless search for a space here. In 2003 they opened the Palm Tavern (named after Chicago's long-shuttered Gerri's Palm Tavern) and last year they opened the Sugar Maple, which is devoted to American craft beers. It has a mind-boggling 60 beers on tap.
All the music this weekend will take place either at the Sugar Maple or at the Palm Tavern. Package tickets are available at both bars; they're $50 each and cover all four shows.
Friday, May 1: 8 PM, Sugar Maple Back Lounge, 441 E. Lincoln, Milwaukee, $15
Set I: Bishop/Vandermark/Daisy/Rempis play the music of Joe McPhee
Set II: Survival Unit III with Joe McPhee, Michael Zerang, and Fred Lonberg-Holm
Saturday, May 2: 2 PM, Palm Tavern, 2989 S. Kinnickinnic, Milwaukee, $15
Solo and duo sets with Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermark, and Dave Rempis with special guests
Saturday, May 2: 8 PM, Sugar Maple Back Lounge, 441 E. Lincoln, Milwaukee, $20
Set I: The Engines with Nate McBride, Jeb Bishop, Dave Rempis, and Tim Daisy
Set II: Peter Brötzmann Trio with Nasheet Waits and Eric Revis
Sunday, May 3: 2 PM, Sugar Maple Front Room, 441 E. Lincoln, Milwaukee, $15
Set I: Collections of Colonies of Bees, music for six guitars
Set II: Caffeine with Jim Baker, Steve Hunt, and Ken Vandermark
Set III: Fred Anderson with Tim Daisy
For more info, call the Sugar Maple at 414-481-2393.
Ismael Rivera y Sus Cachimbos, Traigo de Todo (Tico/Fania)
Heliocentrics, Out There (Now-Again)
Simone, Pedaços (EMI)
Office-R(6), Recording the Grain (+3dB)
Doppelmoppel, Outside This Area (Intakt)