Ellen Christi is a vocalist, but think twice before you call her a singer. That label connotes song, which connotes lyrics and lyricism--and Christi pledges allegiance to none of the above. She uses melody, of course, but in her arsenal it carries the same weight as a variety of other, less orthodox musical devices. Christi uses her voice to moan and growl, to screech and holler, to plunge headlong into polyphonic vortices. She shifts her timbre from wide-open husky to smeary sneer; she spits out rapid-fire syllables like a triple-tonguing trumpeter; she builds a breathy metronome next to a nest of hoot owls. Working with such new-music luminaries as bassist William Parker and "conductionist" Butch Morris, Christi pushes the limits of both her own technique and group improvisation, with sometimes thrilling and occasionally questionable results. No matter what, Christi's work always involves a great deal of theater; her striking 1995 album, Instant Reality (Network), for example, mingled themes of space travel, the American dream, and heaven and hell (with appropriately cherubic and Exorcist-like vocal passages). But even the most straightforward of her current settings--the group Vocal Desires, co-led by electric guitarist Claudio Lodati--places a premium on Christi's outsize, almost operatic sense of drama. Lodati will join his longtime collaborator for this gig, a rare Chicago homecoming for her--Christi grew up in the north suburbs, but for the last decade has spent most of her time in New York and Italy. Another Italian guitarist, Luigi Archetti, and Swiss bassist Jan Schlegel round out the band. Wednesday, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.