Milford Graves | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Milford Graves




On the title track of his first solo album, Grand Unification (Tzadik), legendary free-jazz percussionist Milford Graves accompanies his drumming with spoken text about the various regions of the brain and what they control--a subject he's familiar with in a way even the most dedicated neuroscientists may never be, because Graves, like no other drummer in the world, can use his four limbs as four completely independent music machines. He, along with Sunny Murray and Rashied Ali, was among the first percussionists to ignore meter; but as is evident to anyone who's heard the two brilliant albums he made in the mid-60s with the New York Art Quartet (which played a reunion concert on a New York bill with Sonic Youth earlier this year), he was never ignoring his bandmates. Freed from timekeeping responsibilities, he was able to fully participate in the spontaneous music making as a partner equal to any horn player or pianist. Graves also contributed to groups led by Giuseppi Logan, Paul Bley, Lowell Davidson, Albert Ayler, Sonny Sharrock, and the New York Composers Orchestra, but by the 70s his concept had developed into a commanding entity in its own right, and his mind-boggling multilinearity was the real force beneath the caustic screech of reedists Arthur Doyle and Hugh Glover on his key mid-70s album Babi. On Grand Unification--a dense, enthralling work that demands repeated immersion--it's the only force, and yet the barrage of grooves and ideas distracts a listener from the sheer mechanics of execution. But in person there's no way to ignore the superhuman aspect of his playing. Graves, who's taught music at Bennington College since 1973 and also practices holistic healing, rarely performs these days, and incredibly, this solo show is his first Chicago gig. Wednesday, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. Peter Margasak

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