After using its first two albums to hammer out a cogent synthesis of funk, electro, improv, and jazz, Isotope 217 sought to capture the raw, playful unpredictability of its live shows on last year's Who Stole the I Walkman? (Thrill Jockey). When I first heard the record, I thought the quintet had merely succeeded in interspersing tightly arranged, wonderfully compact compositions with formless, flat jamming, but over time, the transition from deep grooves like "Meta Bass" to the episodic schizophrenia of "Harm-o-Lodge"--a computerized juggling of disjointed beatboxing, Rob Mazurek's electronically processed cornet blasts, and Jeff Parker's biting guitar lines--has come to seem more natural. I still think certain pieces, like "Moonlex," are just noodling, but Isotope is all about ebb and flow and quicksilver serendipity, and the nonchalant careening between chaos and clarity can be as entertaining as it can be maddening. To the band's credit, it makes their performances much more often than it breaks them these days. The Chicago Underground Duo (Mazurek with percussionist Chad Taylor) headlines. Saturday, February 3, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lenny Gonzalez.