James Emery | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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James Emery


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Among the many virtues that distinguish the improvising guitarist James Emery, I admire most his willingness to follow musical ideas wherever they naturally lead; it governs his compositions as well as the formats he finds for presenting his music. He's best known in the context of the acoustic String Trio of New York (he's one of the founders), but his latest project has been the electrified Iliad Quartet, in which he uses the guitar synthesizer (in the company of such new-music exemplars as saxist Marty Ehrlich and drummer Gerry Hemingway). The musics for each group are radically different, but certain Emery trademarks permeate both: colorful, angular, rhythmically vivacious strands of melody; rigorous themes that settle into foot-tapping grooves; song structures that can be easily exploded for relatively free improvising--qualities also found in Emery's solo playing, which he'll do in Chicago. No amps, reverb units, foot pedals, or even solid-bodies--just a few hollow-bodied guitars, including the uke-sized soprano, and a microphone. The acoustic guitar is something of an antediluvian instrumental concept, but Emery employs its purity of sound as both tool and frame in his music. And while it's too glib to compare him to Segovia, he does, similarly and brilliantly, use the acoustic guitar for things originally conceived for quite different instruments--in this case, for high-powered, free-ranging improvisation. Sunday, 7 PM, Southend Musicworks, 1313 S. Wabash; 939-2848. Monday, 7:30 PM, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University, 1977 Sheridan, Evanston; 708-491-5441.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Linda Harris.

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