The 29th annual solstice concerts offer a yearly return or a new annual tradition | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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The 29th annual solstice concerts offer a yearly return or a new annual tradition

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I have to admit, I literally slept on going to Michael Zerang and Hamid Drake’s winter solstice concerts for the first 27 years (though granted, I was only 17 when the first one happened). Out-of-town friends even crashed at my pad to attend the early-morning shows, but as a former night owl, I always thought 6 AM was just too early. That finally changed last year, as this old dog has finally become capable of getting up at a decent hour. At my first solstice concert, I was moved to the point that I vowed to make them an annual tradition. “Concert” might not even be the right word to describe these events—I’d liken them more to happenings or ceremonies, because there’s true magic in them. Zerang and Drake should need no introduction to most local music lovers, as these two percussionists, magicians, and genuine forces of nature have CVs as long as novels. A Chicago native of Assyrian descent, Zerang has been playing and composing music since 1976. He has more than 100 titles in his recorded catalog, and he’s played all over the world with free-jazz heavies such as Peter Brötzmann, Jaap Blonk, and Mats Gustafsson. Drake, an Evanstonian via Louisiana, started collaborating with saintlike saxophonist Fred Anderson in 1974 and remains one of the world’s most sought-after accompanists in jazz and several forms of international music; he’s worked with such giants as Don Cherry, Herbie Hancock, Pharoah Sanders, and William Parker. Not that these credentials will be on your mind when you actually see and hear these two holy sonic messengers receive and release the music of the planetary spheres together. Starting in total darkness, the duo slowly build up their rhythmic alchemy on bells, tablas, djembes, and trap kits as the sun begins to rise and peek through the windows. As the sound swells, a cosmic communion between audience and performers unfolds and the musical rite completes itself in the illuminating rays of our giant life-giving orb (you know, the sun). I simply can’t imagine a more beautiful and spiritual way to bring in the new year—it reminds me of the title free-jazz originator and demigod Albert Ayler gave his 1969 album Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe. My Reader colleague Bill Meyer, who compiled a history of the solstice concerts for the Reader in 2015, declared in a preview for the 2016 installment, “I’ve never left one without feeling uplifted and hopeful for a better year to come.” I wholeheartedly agree, and I wish that I could make up for lost time—or at least that we’ll get 29 more years of this fun, sacred, uplifting music. I won’t miss it again.   v

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