Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls




Chicago's jazz scene is awash in celebrity: we have a new MacArthur fellow (Ken Vandermark), a perpetual Grammy nominee (Kurt Elling), a breakthrough songwriter and performer (Patricia Barber), and a national radio host (Ramsey Lewis). But so far this year none of these stars has come up with a better album than Propaganda (Naim), by drummer Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls, whose combination of adventurous improvising and driving lyricism stuck in my head for days after I first heard it. Sirota's quintet includes three players who've worked with the Chicago Underground Orchestra--cornetist Rob Mazurek, guitarist Jeff Parker, and bassist Noel Kupersmith--and the presence here of Mazurek's coolly exciting lead lines and Parker's sculpted, overflowing chords creates a superficial similarity between the two bands. But the Rebel Souls claim their own turf with Kevin Kizer's tart, twisty tenor saxophone and their leader's restrained but combative drumming and crafty compositions. Sirota's reggae-beat "Geronimo's Free" builds cleanly and quickly, with four measures of bass and four more of backbeat guitar; then the horns offer their own infectious four-bar contribution before launching into the melody. So even though the tune's only a minute along when Kizer unleashes his busy, brawling solo, it feels like you've already heard half a set. The title track, another Sirota composition (Kizer, Mazurek, and most notably Parker also contribute tunes), opens with a theme that sounds like the verse of "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" and then segues into a free-form group grope--Richard Rodgers meets Lester Bowie. Sirota has an expansive vision, the precise, compact swing of a .400 hitter, and an ability to impart those qualities to his sidemen that makes this a band not to be missed. For the first of the Rebel Souls' two record-release gigs this week, alto and tenor saxist Geoff Bradfield--the "sixth Soul," who regularly fills in for either horn man--replaces Mazurek, and Ruben Alvarez adds Latin percussion. Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. Wednesday, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. NEIL TESSER

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