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Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls

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TED SIROTA'S REBEL SOULS

On his brand-new album, juggernaut Chicago drummer Ted Sirota leads his band, the Rebel Souls, through a tune that recalls Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers ("Grendel"), two songs influenced by Herbie Hancock's first compositions ("Tight Rope," "Wonder"), another that could've come directly from Ornette Coleman's bag ("Dig to China"), and a fifth ("Becky's Bash") that references the early work of AACM cofounder Muhal Richard Abrams. In short, Sirota and crew romp through the 60s in less than an hour--about the same amount of time Ken Burns afforded the decade in the notoriously hasty closing installment of his ten-part jazz documentary. The fact that Sirota offers ten times as much musical insight, casting a fresh eye on so many idioms from that seminal period, only enhances my regard for this outfit--one of the city's very best jazz bands. Its lineup has grown on each of its three discs, from a quartet to a quintet and now a sextet, and those who follow Chicago's busy experimental scene will recognize most of the players' names. Jeff Parker's spicy, voluptuous guitar has become a hallmark of Tortoise's sound, and he and Rob Mazurek, with his beautifully blunt cornet, helped found the avant-groove band Isotope 217; Parker, Mazurek, and Noel Kupersmith, the Rebel Souls' bassist, also populate the small groups that work under the "Chicago Underground" rubric. The remaining Souls, saxophonists Kevin Kizer and Geof Bradfield, are less well-known, but both contribute vivid, piquant solos to this band; Bradfield also wrote two of the album's eight songs and arranged another. Despite sharing many principal players, the Rebel Souls diverge radically from Isotope and the Chicago Underground groups, emphasizing classic hard-bop textures and creative confrontation rather than leisurely interplay and electronic layering. Credit Sirota's skills as a leader: he's created a distinctive band, tightly controlled but with an unpredictable energy sharpened by confident musicianship--a balance mirrored in Sirota's busy but spacious drumming, which buoys everything around him without receding into the background. The new album, Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls vs. the Forces of Evil (Naim), hits the shelves this week, and this performance celebrates that release. Saturday, February 17, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

--NEIL TESSER

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