The List: April 8-14, 2010 | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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The List: April 8-14, 2010

Critics' Choices and other notable shows: Baaba Maal, the Tomasz Stanko Quintet, Major Lazer, Mission of Burma, Florence & the Machine, Pissed Jeans, and more

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Thursday8

Zemog el Gallo Bueno
Fay Victor

Friday9

Fred Hersch Trio
Baaba Maal
Mi Ami
The Soft Pack
The Tomasz Stanko Quintet
Fay Victor

Saturday10

Fred Hersch Trio
Major Lazer
Mission of Burma

Monday12

Florence & the Machine

Tuesday13

Gebhard Ullmann Clarinet Trio

Wednesday14

Pissed Jeans
Gebhard Ullmann Clarinet Trio

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ZEMOG EL GALLO BUENO Puerto Rican native Abraham Gomez-Delgado, 38, moved to the U.S. when he was just six and absorbed a huge range of music growing up in central Massachusetts. He spent years in rock bands in his 20s, but for the past decade he's made Puerto Rican sounds like salsa and plena the bedrock of his output. His long-running group Zemog el Gallo Bueno started out playing a rock-propelled strain of salsa, colliding aggressive electric guitar with dense Latin polyrhythms in hooky songs that had the concision of pop. Over time, though, the band has made more and more room in its music for jazz; its third album, last year's Nueva York Sessions (Mr. Bongo), includes not just extended horn solos but also odd harmonies and fluid rhythms that depart from the rather rigidly schematic sound of much Latin music. Gomez-Delgado has long worked with Boston's most progressive players, and now that he's moved to New York the possibilities for collaboration have really opened up. On last year's Garabatos Volume One (Cuneiform) he co-led an off-kilter ten-piece big band called Positive Catastrophe with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, moving even further down the road from dance music to jazz—it sounds like the Sun Ra Arkestra playing Eddie Palmieri charts. A new Zemog album is in the works, and I'm curious to see whether its sound will follow suit. For this rare local appearance Gomez-Delgado fronts a five-member version of the band: he'll sing and play guitar and percussion, backed by saxophonist Jessica Lurie, bassist Alvaro Benavides, tres and accordion player Aaron Halva, and drummer Pablo Bencid. 10 PM, Morseland, 1218 W. Morse, 773-764-8900, $10. —Peter Margasak

FAY VICTOR The Freesong Suite (Greene Ave Music), the latest album by New York vocalist Fay Victor, genuinely surprised me: as soon as I thought I had a handle on its style, the next track would do something else. Victor's rich, creamy voice reminds me of heavy hitters like Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln, and Jeanne Lee, and like them she's restlessly creative, carving out her own unpredictable path. Early in The Freesong Suite she sets a strikingly intimate tone, using wordless, restrained improvisation that's only very loosely framed by nubby bass lines and meandering guitar notes. But by the third track, "Bob and Weave," her group has fallen into a bluesy groove and she's singing a clear narrative. On subsequent cuts she taps into rock, free jazz, and other styles, but no matter what's happening around her she's always a highly communicative singer. Her original material has an ingrained storytelling quality that comes through even when the music is relatively abstract—"Joe's Car" is a you-can't-go-home-again song, and "Gone Fishing" is quite literally about a fishing trip. Victor is traveling with her regular guitarist, the resourceful Swede Anders Nilsson; tonight they'll play in a trio with local drummer Tim Daisy. See also Friday. 10 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-772-3616, $8 suggested donation. —Peter Margasak

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FRED HERSCH TRIO Pianist Fred Hersch is rooted in mainstream jazz, but the range of his musical curiosity extends far beyond it. Over the past three decades he's played in contexts too diverse to list: solo, in all sorts of small groups, with jazz singers as well as classical and Brazilian vocalists. He's interpreted everything from Tin Pan Alley tunes to the work of free-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, and he's written elaborate original pieces that compress jazz history into tidy, harmonically rich, contemporary-sounding packages. He's a complete musician, and talented enough to make his mastery sound nonchalant; no matter what the setting, he enriches it with his elegantly melodic improvisation and constant search for new harmonic and rhythmic wrinkles. His latest album, last year's Fred Hersch Plays Jobim (Sunnyside), is slyly subversive, tackling tunes by the bossa nova great but almost completely bypassing the genre's telltale rhythms. For these rare local performances he'll be backed by a rhythm section he's been working with in New York: bassist John Hebert, a regular collaborator of guitarist Mary Halvorson, and drummer Eric McPherson. See also Saturday. 8 and 9:45 PM, Club Blujazz, 1540 W. North, 773-360-8046, $25. —Peter Margasak

BAABA MAAL "The whole world is coming to Africa to look for its music," Senegalese singer Baaba Maal told Songlines magazine last year. "Why shouldn't we go to them? Would it be possible for us to say, we are just musicians, not 'African musicians'?" Maal has spent much of his career refashioning the traditions of his homeland to fit a wide-open aesthetic, an implicit rebuke to the notion that African music somehow loses its authenticity if it borrows from other cultures. Most of the time the results have been stellar—the notable exception is 1998's Nomad Soul, with its "we are the world" bromides—and with last year's Television (Palm Pictures) he made his most radical attempt yet. Working with pomo New York band Brazilian Girls, he's created a gorgeous, subdued pop record; though it includes elements from West Africa, from trotting tam-tam drums to sparkling kora, it's a genuinely global piece of music that could fit in anywhere. The focus is squarely on Maal's powerhouse voice, which slides through the percolating, richly textured arrangements with the same soulful gravitas he brought to his hard-core mbalax recordings decades ago. Sabina Sciubba's smoky, gentle singing—enfolded by atmospheric guitar lines, swirling electronics, and floor-shaking bass—serves as a foil to Maal's exhortations, which sound even more striking by contrast. Though I'd love to see him play songs from Television with his Yankee collaborators, for this gig he'll appear with his long-running Senegalese band, Daande Lenol, whose instrumentation for this gig consists of electric guitar, bass, keyboards, ngoni, drums, and percussion. Maal reliably delivers knockout performances with this group, and I'm curious how they'll remake the new material. 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, sold out. —Peter Margasak

MI AMI The abrasive, rhythmic throb of this peculiar San Francisco trio reminds me of the abstract funk of English postpunks like 23 Skidoo and A Certain Ratio, but in Mi Ami's hands that sound gets a lot hairier, spiked with wild, barely controlled noise. Their impressive second album, Steal Your Face (Thrill Jockey), is even rougher than the first. Daniel Martin-McCormick commands center stage with his strident yelps, screams, and cries—he sounds so much like a teenage girl that at first I thought I was looking at the wrong band's photo. His guitar careens, swoops, and grinds with economy and precision, veering from dubby coloration to pure amp abuse over the fat, driving grooves of bassist Jacob Long and the quasi-tribal, tom-heavy drumming of Damon Palermo. Most of the songs are fiercely urgent, but the band is occasionally almost meditative ("Dreamers"), trading hopped-up clatter for narcotized drift. Running and DJ Forest Juziuk open. 10 PM, Hideout, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Peter Margasak

THE SOFT PACK Matt Lamkin is a pretty great singer and a decent guitarist, but where he really excels is at being a smartass, with a level of thoroughness, subtlety, and style that few other smartasses in rock 'n' roll can match. The lyrics to "Call It a Day"—the best song from the self-titled album his band released when they were still called the Muslims—don't read as a diss until you realize that the "liars," "killers," and "muses" that Lumkin's asking to hang it up are, in fact, the Liars, the Killers, and Muse. The group's new album, The Soft Pack (Kemado), contains more sceney shit-talk, an argument for California secession, and a bunch of good rock music. The band's sparkling tones and tastefully restrained playing give their slightly garagey music a dapper, clean-cut quality with hints of the Modern Lovers and Hot Snakes, but it's still got enough muscle to back up the occasional thrown elbow. Male Bonding and Beaters open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $12, $10 in advance. —Miles Raymer

Tomasz Stanko
  • andrzej tyszko
  • Tomasz Stanko

TOMASZ STANKO QUINTET Arguably the greatest jazz instrumentalist Poland has ever produced, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has long cleaved to a brooding, romantic sound—his atmospheres tend to be dark, his melodies scarred and scuffed. For much of the past decade he's been making delicately beautiful records with a young Polish piano trio fronted by Marcin Wasilewski, who've given the music a drifting, vaporous feel despite the physicality of Stanko's playing. The Scandinavian group backing him on the gorgeous new Dark Eyes (ECM) does little that departs from the plushness of his previous work, but at the same time it pushes him to be more visceral and extroverted. Finnish drummer Olavi Louhivuori has a relatively aggressive style, and Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila—who made a terrific trio album called Constellation for Jazzaway in 2006—and Danish guitarist Jakob Bro prod Stanko with darting figures and taut dissonance even as they cushion him with a rich harmonic palette. On "Terminal 7" the music bristles with tension—Tuomarila and electric bassist Anders Christensen trace the chord changes with meticulous, pointilistic repetition, in stark contrast to Stanko's flowing lines—and on the episodic "The Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch" the group's fierce swing recalls the mid-60s version of the Miles Davis Quintet. 9 PM, Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie, 800-838-3006, $20, $15 in advance. —Peter Margasak

FAY VICTOR See Thursday. Victor and Nilsson will be joined by local cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050, $15.

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FRED HERSCH TRIO See Friday. 8 and 9:45 PM, Club Blujazz, 1540 W. North, 773-360-8046, $25.

MAJOR LAZER Thanks to the insatiable and capricious appetites of Jamaican music consumers, as well as dancehall producers' constant search for new sounds and hybrids, the island is a hotbed of musical experimentation. Which, for mad-scientist types like Diplo and Switch—the pair behind M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" and a bevy of tweaked-out remixes—makes it an ideal environment. Last year, as Major Lazer, the duo released Guns Don't Kill People . . . Lazers Do (Downtown), a giddy, ADHD-jumpy tribute to dancehall's throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks spirit. Though they recruited about a dozen deejays (as MCs are called in JA), ranging from gangsta-leaning superstar Vybz Kartel to goofball oddity Prince Zimboo, the focus on Guns is the beats, which include two of the most bizarre dance tracks of last year, "I'll Make Ya" and "Pon de Floor." The former is a stream-of-consciousness assemblage of surf guitar, horse whinnies, and vibrating cellphones over a stuttering dancehall beat, while the latter is based on drum rolls and a wordless vocal digitally stretched into the most naggingly addictive whine since Dre stopped making G-funk. Rusko opens. 10 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, sold out, 18+. —Miles Raymer

MISSION OF BURMA Between 1979 and 1983 Mission of Burma remade rock by bringing much-needed ambition and genuine destructiveness to punk's back-to-basics aesthetic and aggressive attitude—they made some great songs even better by scrambling them with churning tape loops and chaotic instrumental digressions. Since re-forming in 2002 they've built on that spirit of renewal-through-obliteration: on OnOffOn and The Obliterati they tampered with their own formulas, adding electronic keyboards, string sections, and the occasional disco beat. Their third and latest post-reunion album, The Sound the Speed the Light (Matador), is the first where Burma seem content simply to be Burma. Roger Miller's maelstrom guitar, Clint Conley's sprinting bass, and Peter Prescott's battering-ram drums (plus Bob Weston's captured-on-tape recycling of all of the above) are reassuringly familiar. And new songs like "Forget Yourself" tap into the same sentiment expressed in their early anthem "That's When I Reach for My Revolver"—everything's falling apart, but I'm still standing. Mission of Burma may not be evolving at the same rate now that they were five years ago, but they still sound like one of the best bands in rock—themselves. Prichard opens.  9 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 877-435-9849, $20. —Bill Meyer

Florence Welch of Florence & the Machine
  • Florence Welch of Florence & the Machine

monday12

FLORENCE & THE MACHINE The winner of the "Trend You Wish Would Go Away" category in Pitchfork's 2009 year-end Reader's Poll was a category that basically included all the British girls who've broken out in the wake of Lily Allen. As much as I agree when it comes to Little Boots, Florence & the Machine didn't belong on the list. Singer Florence Welch belongs on another one, a short one populated by the eccentric likes of Bjork and Annie Lennox. She has a hurricane voice, like a cabaret singer reborn as a soulful foghorn, and her mighty band is a match for it. Her latest, Lungs (Island), is now on its third stateside single and still making a little headway, but in the UK it's the most acclaimed and awarded record of the last few years—and rightly so. Holy Hail opens. 7 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 877-598-8703, $21, $18 in advance. —Jessica Hopper

tuesday13

GEBHARD ULLMANN CLARINET TRIO The shoestring economics of improvised music encourage musicians to carry on like sailors—playing with whomever they can pick up when they blow into town or having a band in every port. The catch, as Berlin-based reedist Gebhard Ullmann sees it, is that players need more permanent working relationships to get to the top of their game. His solution has been to keep touring bands on both sides of the Atlantic, but there's still a trade-off: American audiences rarely get to see the Clarinet Trio, which Ullmann has maintained with fellow German clarinetists Michael Thieke and Jürgen Kupke since 1998. Which is a shame, since the combination of their stylistic openness, closely calibrated attunement, and Ullmann's rigorous yet memorable compositions make them one of the better all-reed ensembles around. See also Wednesday. 12:15 PM, Randolph Cafe, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. —Bill Meyer

Pissed Jeans

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PISSED JEANS Pissed Jeans' third full-length, last year's King of Jeans (Sub Pop), feels like a punk show in a grimy, ramshackle bowling alley that's only standing because the sweat-drenched, red-faced singer who just demolished his voice in front of 16 kids is leaning hard against the wall while he pukes his guts out. Front man Matt Korvette snarls and hollers, his surliness a perfect blend of Darby Crash and David Yow, and the band backs him up with massive, bludgeoning drums and thick slabs of crunchy bass and guitar (think 80s hardcore, except maybe a little slower and grottier). Korvette oscillates between disillusionment and disgust as he rails against nine-to-five drones, picking at the scab of white-collar apathy on songs like "Dream Smotherer" and "Spent" ("I earned an extra hundred dollars / There's nothing I want to buy"). He's so good at walking in the shoes of the people he's attacking—he's worked for six years or so as a claims adjuster—that his contempt takes on a disturbing intimacy. King of Jeans is missing the bracingly noisy, barely structured ravings that popped up here and there on 2007's Hope for Men ("People Person," for instance), but this Allentown foursome hasn't exactly taken its foot off its audience's collective throat. From the sound of things, they still think humans are pretty shitty. Herds and Cougars open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Kevin Warwick

GEBHARD ULLMANN CLARINET TRIO See Tuesday; James Falzone spins. Ullmann also plays on Thursday at Elastic (2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor) with ad hoc groups of local musicians. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $10.

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