On their long-delayed third album, Bell System (Rift)--most of which was recorded at Chicago's Idful Music with John McEntire more than three years ago--the bicontinental percussion duo Les Batteries continues to flout expectations. Together New Yorker Rick Brown (Run On, Timber, Fish & Roses) and Frenchman Guigou Chenevier (Volapuk, Etron Fou) take concise but eventful journeys without resorting to brainless funk, drum-circle trippiness, or sterile academicism for narrative help. Their compositions are so polyrhythmically complex that collisions often seem inevitable, but the pieces are fitted together like Swiss watch parts--so tightly that at the end of a tune you may find yourself exhaling in relief. The percussive onslaught is abetted by staticky electronics, sing-songy sax lines, zigzag keyboard riffs, and spoken word that's sometimes conversational ("Resignation") and sometimes hysterical ("Le Vent a la Crete des Vagues"), but the drums are always in control. Due to the geographical distance and both men's busy schedules--Chenevier, who is from Avignon, has just released Les Rumeurs de la Ville (Cuneiform), a stunning musical portrait of his hometown that showcases his folk- and classical-tinged writing and beautifully incorporates the work of student musicians from a workshop he taught--performances by Les Batteries are few and far between. But they're always a marvel to behold. The superb bill is rounded out by Sue Garner, Brown's wife and partner in Run On; Brokeback, the solo project of Tortoise bassist Doug McCombs; and the Chicago Underground Trio (see Spot Check). Saturday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Yael Routtenberg.