Black Ox Orkestar | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Black Ox Orkestar

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Formed in 2000, this Montreal quartet draws much of its inspiration from eastern Europe--both from old 78s of Jewish shtetl songs and contemporary Gypsy outfits like Taraf de Haidouks and the Kocani Orkestar. Though their austere, unamplified music bears little resemblance to the slick, buoyant postmodern romps of revivalists like the Klezmatics or David Krakauer's Klezmer Madness, they're hardly stodgy: the group's terrific debut, Ver Tanzt? (Constellation), imports rhythms and textures from free jazz. The bulk of the disc consists of brooding traditional material with restrained, haunting melodies sung in Yiddish. But the instrumental opener, "Shvartze Flamen, Vayser Fayer," one of two pieces by singer and multi-instrumentalist Scott Levine Gilmore, sounds uncannily like Ornette Coleman's classic ballad "Lonely Woman," and throughout the album upright bassist Thierry Amar plays churning, slow-moving arco lines to create a wonderfully out-of-time feel a la Charlie Haden. Levine Gilmore sometimes adds percussion to Amar's bass, and violinist Jessica Moss and clarinetist Gabe Levine add alternately aggressive and melancholy dissonance; Levine's slide guitar on "Fishelakh in Vaser" splits the difference between Son House and Sonny Sharrock. All four members are of Jewish descent, but that doesn't incline them to a rosy view of Israeli policy: on the title track they assail the occupation of Palestine, singing, "A young soldier / He dances a hora on Arab bones / He sings over Arab graves." Flutist Nicole Mitchell opens with Black Earth Strings, a spin-off of her Black Earth Ensemble; Timeout Drawer headlines. $8. Thursday, September 2, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499.

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