Detroit art-rock foursome Saajtak harness the power of improvisation for good | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Detroit art-rock foursome Saajtak harness the power of improvisation for good


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The members of Detroit art-rock group Saajtak met at the University of Michigan in the early 2010s, when all four participated in an improvising ensemble called the Creative Arts Orchestra. They’ve since carried the experimental traditions they explored as students into their work in Saajtak and into their individual creative pursuits—each has developed such an impressive career that their CVs could fill a chapbook. Bassist Ben Willis composes music for dancers in a theater troupe called Nerve; percussionist Jon Taylor reframes ancestral Eastern European Jewish songs in new-music compositions as part of the ensemble Teiku; electronics maestro Simon Alexander-Adams has presented his multimedia art at Coachella; and vocalist Alex Koi has performed at the Toronto Jazz Festival. In Saajtak, they build off improvised sessions to create bristling, quasi-operatic recordings that feel primed to shift unexpectedly and travel down an entirely different path at any moment. They’ve made a point of documenting their creative possibilities and showcasing their open-minded attitude in the process; 2019’s self-released If You Ask EP includes two original songs, three remixes, and an acoustic interpretation of the title track. On the original “If You Ask,” Saajtak transform a minimal, undulating rhythm and an avian vocal harmony into a thunderous, dramatic rock symphony led by Koi’s acrobatic powerhouse singing; it enlivens the song’s most fragile moments with a feral energy that could power a fleet of lesser bands.   v

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