When Sam Prekop made his 1999 debut solo album, he assembled a superb group of musicians who headed into the studio before they'd spent much time playing together. But on the road they matured into a confident, expansive band: cornetist Rob Mazurek became more than an occasional accompanist, and Prekop and fellow Sea and Cake guitarist Archer Prewitt developed a nice snap in their ethereal, contrapuntal, and bossa nova-kissed lines. Prekop says he wanted his follow-up, Who's Your New Professor (Thrill Jockey), to capture the vibe of a live performance, and though he and engineer John McEntire did plenty of postproduction editing on the record, there's no question the quartet sounds far more assured than on the debut. Bassist Josh Abrams and drummer Chad Taylor usually play jazz, so shifting on the fly is second nature to them, but they now sound more aggressive and limber, particularly on the brisk, up-tempo instrumental "Magic Step." The guitars have more bite as well. Prewitt plays two solos on "Dot Eye," one for each of the song's two grooves; on the first he matches the loose, amiable backing and shaker-accented pulse with some warmly melodic playing, while on the second his loud stabs add acid to the tougher but still relaxed rhythm. Prekop's melodies remain strong, and he keeps putting more throat into his vocals, eschewing the weightless croon that dominates most Sea and Cake records. And there are plenty of wonderful details worth listening for, like Prekop's gorgeous overdubbed vocal harmonies on "Two Dedications" and the restrained synth textures McEntire uses as shading throughout the album. This show is the band's first live performance in five years. Azita and Michael Columbia open. Thu 3/17, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499, $10.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.