DIY improviser Rob Magill makes his Chicago debut performing with a variety of local up-and-comers | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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DIY improviser Rob Magill makes his Chicago debut performing with a variety of local up-and-comers


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Rob Magill is a ridiculously prolific musician and artist from Ojai, California, who churns out music at a manic pace, a situation that’s made dipping into his work a bit daunting. I first encountered him a couple of years ago when Sun Ark, the label operated by his fellow LA experimentalist Sun Araw (Cameron Stallones), dropped his sprawling 2016 album The Owl and the Pussycat. On the back cover Magill included a list of disparate influences from across the entire musical spectrum, among them the Flamingos, Elliott Carter, Marshall Allen, and Yma Sumac. While it’s hard to identify any direct reference to these artists in the music on the album, given its ambition and range, it all makes sense. On the side-long piece “The Owl” Magill overdubs various strings, guitar, reeds, vocals, and percussion—all played by him—to create a brooding, through-composed work of strident harmony and pensive melody, strewn with improvisation but informed by 20th-century classical music. The flip side includes a delicate dialogue between Magill’s saxophone and the austere singing of Natalie Alyse before moving into an extended spoken-word section, where Magill’s delivery over his own freewheeling chamber-jazz improvisation suggests the poetry-jazz collisions of 1950s San Francisco. But that album—a rarity in that it was released on vinyl by his mostly digital label Weird Cry—is hardly characteristic. Two of his titles from last year focus on the more extroverted, spontaneous side of his sax blowing. Transparent Actions is a fiery duo recording with drummer Marshall Trammell (ex-Black Spirituals) on which Magill’s soprano and tenor saxophone lines alternate between blown-out assaults and seductively snaking spell casting, while February Paintings Series Vol. 2 (Escape to Freedom) gets even more vivid in a series of solo reed improvisations where his playing alternates between lyric tenderness and furious energy. In his Chicago debut Magill will play two improvised sets: a duo performance with drummer Julian Kirshner and a quartet with Kirshner, bassist Charlie Kirchen, and saxophonist Gerrit Hatcher.   v

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