Cellist Lia Kohl on a joyful live series that randomly collides improvisers | In Rotation | Chicago Reader

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Cellist Lia Kohl on a joyful live series that randomly collides improvisers

Plus: Drummer Tim Daisy on a fresh take on a classic Brazilian sound, Reader music editor Philip Montoro on a gorgeous art-rock record going extinct, and more

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A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.

The author's 1988 cassette copy of Glass Eye's tragically out-of-print Bent by Nature - RACHEL HAWLEY
  • Rachel Hawley
  • The author's 1988 cassette copy of Glass Eye's tragically out-of-print Bent by Nature

Philip Montoro, Reader music editor

Glass Eye, Bent by Nature I stingily ration the remaining plays of my deteriorating cassette copy of the 1988 sophomore album by this wonderful art-rock band from Austin, Texas—Bent by Nature has been out of print for ages, and it's barely streaming anywhere. Its mix of playfully eccentric arrangements, hair-raising melodies, creepy lyrics, rambunctious beats, bizarre avant-garde funk bass, and heartbreaking vocal harmonies (by guitarist Kathy McCarty and bassist Brian Beattie) is very much of a time and place, which is I guess a way of admitting it sounds dated—but that's my time and place, damn it.

  • A video for the Bent by Nature song "Dimsey Naish," made of footage of a tree shadow during a partial solar eclipse
  • A fan-made video for Bent by Nature track "Christine"

Frank Rosaly's ¡Todos de Pie! Drummer Frank Rosaly debuted his ¡Todos de Pie! project in 2012, and its first album arrived in October, three years after he moved from Chicago to Amsterdam. He honors his Puerto Rican roots by using a 12-piece ensemble (with four percussionists from Chicago's Las BomPleneras) to update bomba, plena, son, and other traditional idioms, refracting them through jazz and improvised music. The band juices up its joyous horns and simmering drums with dissonant electronics, scalding free improv, acidic noise-rock guitar, and vocal acrobatics by inimitable Dutch weirdo Jaap Blonk.

A mortar and pestle I don't make it to the practice space where I keep my drum kit often enough, but I do cook most weekends—and making a Thai curry paste from scratch in a granite mortar tickles similar parts of my brain. Sure, it's like playing only one drum, and the tone is lousy, but it smells a lot better.

Philip is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

Sessa played material from the solo record Grandeza at the Hungry Brain this past July.
  • Sessa played material from the solo record Grandeza at the Hungry Brain this past July.

Tim Daisy, drummer and composer

Sessa, Grandeza I heard Brazilian artist Sessa perform recently at the Hungry Brain and was completely blown away. The songwriting is obviously influenced by his country's rich musical history (Caetano Veloso, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Arthur Verocai), but his group offers a fresh perspective by using a stripped-down, minimalist instrumentation as well as tasteful applications of psychedelia, tropical, and experimental jazz textures. I look forward to more from Sessa and his amazing band!

Abu Obaida Hassan & His Tambour, The Shaigiya Sound of Sudan New York-based Ostinato Records offers listeners positive stories by releasing music from countries that have had their international image torn apart by one-sided reporting in major media—including Somalia, Cape Verde, and Haiti. The Shaigiya Sound documents the music of northern Sudan's Abu Obaida Hassan, who plays a modified five-string tambour. Though a legend in his own country, Abu was virtually unknown in the West until this release. The sonic experience he creates with his band is rich, hypnotic, and soulful.

Joëlle Léandre and Elisabeth Harnik, Tender Music This powerful and engaging set of duo improvisations by Austrian pianist and composer Elisabeth Harnik and French double bassist and vocalist Joëlle Léandre documents a live set recorded in Graz, Austria, in 2016. The compelling dialogue and focused intensity on display here reinforce my belief that live recordings of improvised music are often the most rewarding.

Tim is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

Cristal Sabbagh's series Freedom From and Freedom To invites artists to improvise in randomly chosen groups. - RICARDO ADAME
  • Ricardo Adame
  • Cristal Sabbagh's series Freedom From and Freedom To invites artists to improvise in randomly chosen groups.

Lia Kohl, cellist and performance artist

Anything by Paolo Pandolfo, but especially Bach: The Six Suites The viola da gamba is the six- or seven-stringed ancestor/cousin of the cello. It's like the goat cheese of stringed instruments, slightly nasal and gamey and rich. In 2001 Pandolfo released Bach's famous set of six solo cello suites, adapting it for the gamba, which allowed him to do harmonic and ornamental acrobatics that express the original improvisational possibilities of Baroque music—and a contagious, unbridled joy.

  • Paolo Pandolfo performs the seventh movement of Bach's sixth cello suite, adapted for viola da gamba.

Emma-Jean Thackray, Ley Lines (2018) I discovered Emma-Jean Thackray through her collaboration with Makaya McCraven. A producer and multi-instrumentalist based in London, she seems to be a true polymath: she performed all of 2018's Ley Lines—drums, synths, singing, brass—by herself. She describes the process as stepping out of her usual role as bandleader and creating a community of characters (including outfit changes and fake names). I am entirely convinced by this groovy band of Emma-Jeans.

Cristal Sabbagh's Freedom From and Freedom To at Elastic Arts (upcoming April 9) Sabbagh is a Chicago-based dancer who puts together a quarterly series with a simple, unusual setup: she invites around 20 improvisers (musicians and dancers), then asks the audience to pick names out of a hat to choose small groups. The results are experimental, unexpected, and fun, inciting laughter, audience participation, and performers fluidly switching disciplines—dancers sing into mikes and musicians rove around the stage.  v

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