Free-jazz trio Survival Unit III offers a tongue-in-cheek promise to revisit an early recording | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Free-jazz trio Survival Unit III offers a tongue-in-cheek promise to revisit an early recording


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The description of tonight’s performance on Experimental Sound Studio’s website claims that the astringent free-jazz trio Survival Unit III will play a “re-imagining” of its 2015 album Barrow Street Blues (Holiday), which documents an improvised concert the group gave at the Chicago Cultural Center in 2004. There’s some puckish wit in claiming that multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, and percussionist Michael Zerang will actually glom on to a specific performance from 13 years ago—especially when it was totally spontaneous—but as Lonberg-Holm told me, “Joe likes confusions,” noting that the long-running unit’s last two albums are both called Straylight though they’re different improvised sets made a year apart. (The first is a cassette released by superb Austin imprint Astral Spirits that was recorded in Copenhagen in 2013, while the second is a CD taped live in Champaign in 2014 and released by Zerang’s own Pink Palace label.) The titles and claims of reimaginings are likely humorous tweaks, but there’s nothing silly about the group’s relentless commitment to three-way interactions in which McPhee and Lonberg-Holm generate grainy, sometimes piercing lines that meld sorrowful melody and biting tonal sharpness. The tape release captures the trio in a more contemplative, lyric mode, while the CD is ferocious in its assault, with all three musicians frequently exploring harsh upper-register terrain, sometimes with the aid of electronic effects—Zerang will often push aside his kit in favor of bowed objects. It’s impossible to say what SUIII will serve up this time, but it’s certain they’ll go all-in, producing an uncompromising attack that slaloms between raw tenderness and harrowing, seat-of-the-pants exploration.   v

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