When: Sat., June 13, 8:30 p.m. 2015
Michael Zerang has been a linchpin of Chicago’s improvised music scene for nearly four decades. He’s a deeply curious musician open to all sorts of collaborations, and he has a profound regard for players coming from non-Western traditions—Zerang himself is an Assyrian-American who spent years playing the music of his homeland in a family band with his brother and father called Kismet. Over the last 15 years or so he’s focused largely on fully improvised contexts, but during the 90s he prolifically scored theater and dance performances as he worked with the likes of Redmoon Theater, Hedwig Dances, and playwright Bryn Magnus. A few years ago Zerang got the itch to write again and assembled the Blue Lights: reedists Mars Williams and Dave Rempis, cornetist Josh Berman, and bassist Kent Kessler. The group has just released two bristling collections of music that focus on freebop themes occasionally touched by Arabic sonorities. A cassette-only album wittily titled Hash Eaters and Peacekeepers explicitly addresses Zerang’s love of Middle Eastern music with three deftly arranged traditional pieces that commingle with hooky original tunes. A second release on his own Pink Palace imprint, Songs From the Big Book of Love, features eight bold originals, all marked by a great vitality and gripping rapport between the members of the front line—especially the saxophonists, who manage to be extroverted in their tone-splitting screams without ever detracting from the music’s addictive thrust. As much as I enjoy hearing Zerang eschew steady time, in this project it’s a blast to hear him keep it. —Peter Margasak Michael Zerang & the Blue Lights also perform at the Whistler on Tue 6/16.