Prog rock has been the object of much derision since it mutated 20 years ago into such unpleasant musical organisms as Kansas, ELO, and Supertramp. But the 90s being the decade of guilty pleasures, it's not uncommon these days to encounter ghosts of proggers past in the least likely places. Broken Wire totes some of the genre's typical baggage: sectional tunes, extended space for soloing, synthesizers and electric guitars mixed with strings, melodies that float over odd, jumping meters and squalls of hard-rock backbeat. But on their debut, Broken Wire (Eighth Day Music), these four accomplished local improvisers never settle for mere retro; even Jim Baker's "Shooting an Elephant," a song actually composed in 1969, sounds quite current, especially during Baker's frightening electric-shaver synth solo. Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm contributes four cool tunes, two of which ("Wheat in the Pocket" and "Bobby") have a distinctive Middle Eastern flavor, as does the group's cover of Nubian funkster Ali Hassan Kuban's "Om Sha'ar Asmar Meddafar." Daniel Scanlan hops from electric guitar to fiddle to (least successfully) brass with trademark freneticism, and percussionist Michael Zerang handles the dizzying time signatures with ease--on his "Blonde in Beirut," he starts with sensitive hand percussion, then kicks out the additive-metered Arabic jams on a full kit. But the record's smash hit should be the cover of "Ida Lupino"--Scanlan passes for Carlos Santana with a classic-rock solo over Carla Bley's melancholy line, while Baker (who is fantastic all record long) creeps in with one of the most surprising keyboard solos I've heard in ages, an off-time version of the melody that sounds like it's being tuned in on a radio. This performance, sadly one of the very last musical events at the Lunar, is a release party for Broken Wire. Also on the bill are the improvising quartet Odradek and the postbop ensemble Chicago Underground Orchestra. Friday, 10 PM, Lunar Cabaret and Full Moon Cafe, 2827 N. Lincoln; 773-327-6666. JOHN CORBETT
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Adam Paul Vales.