JULIAN LAGE GROUP Young jazz virtuosos tend to be more interested in showing off their chops than developing a coherent vision, but guitarist Julian Lage bucks that trend—for his second album, Gladwell (due from Emarcy on April 26), he's created a unique and beautiful ensemble sound and gripping solo pieces. At the ripe old age of 23 Lage has already logged serious time as a sideman with vibist Gary Burton and pianist Taylor Eigsti, but the stylistic range of his own superb quintet is broader than those associations would suggest. On the new album's furious opening track, "233 Butler," percussionist Tupac Mantilla thwacks away at what sounds like a cajon, shatters glass, and vocalizes, while Lage strums damped chords that nod to flamenco. In the episodic "However," written by saxophonist Dan Blake, Afropop and Irish fiddle music collide, with Blake and cellist Aristides Rivas playing dazzling unison lines. On a solo performance of the Elizabeth Cotten classic "Freight Train," Lage reconciles the song's blues foundation with classical technique, and his gorgeously inventive solo take on "Autumn Leaves" pulls apart both melody and rhythm. On a trio of short improvisations Lage multitracks himself to create harmonically intricate miniatures rife with barbed melodies and rhythmic tangles. Gladwell isn't perfect—the trio piece "Iowa Taken" is fussy in a fusiony kind of way—but the high points far outweigh the lows. The Neal Alger Trio opens. 8 PM, SPACE, 1245 Chicago, Evanston, 847-492-8860, $20, $15 in advance. —Peter Margasak
SKULL DEFEKTS In 2006 this Swedish minimalist-noise combo—then a duo consisting of Joachim Nordwall (a key figure in Scandinavian noise circles and owner of Ideal Records) and Henrik Rylander (drummer for amazing Stooge-oid rockers Union Carbide Productions)—made its U.S. debut here at a Lampo-presented concert. Since then, the Skull Defekts' lineup has grown to include multi-instrumentalists Jean-Louis Huhta and Daniel Fagerström, and for their new album, Peer Amid (Thrill Jockey), they've moved from noisy, often abrasive drones into granite-hard single-chord rock. On this record they're joined by Lungfish front man Daniel Higgs, whose solo work over the past decade has been notably free of rock trappings. While I'm not a big fan of Higgs's eccentric singing—I find his piercing quaver best in small doses—it works well in this context, its wildness spilling over the edges of the rigid repetition and almost martial precision of the Skull Defekts' tightly coiled workouts. Zomes and Mountains open. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 877-435-9849, $8. —Peter Margasak
BEN ALLISON BAND Bassist, composer, and bandleader Ben Allison has recorded nine albums of original music, and with each one he finds a new focus; among other things, he's hybridized jazz and Malian music with kora player Mamadou Diabate, played modern chamber jazz with his group Medicine Wheel, and experimented with rock concision. His tenth album, Action-Refraction (due from Palmetto Records on April 12), is the first devoted mostly to music he didn't write himself. There's a knotty, prog-rock feel to his band's version of Thelonious Monk's "Jackie-ing," where Michael Blake's bass clarinet slaloms through a sideways groove, and their take on the meditative Donny Hathaway ballad "Some Day We'll All Be Free" slowly intensifies thanks to old-school synth lines from Jason Lindner and roiling, lacerating feedback from guest guitarist Brandon Seabrook. The liner notes claim that the album's version of Samuel Barber's "St. Ita's Vision" is a nod to Sun Ra, though it sounds more like a post-ELP fantasia; on their cover of the Carpenters hit "We've Only Just Begun," Allison and his band play simultaneously in three different tempos and keys, only locking in during the chorus. Other songs they tweak include PJ Harvey's "Missed," Neil Young's "Philadelphia," and Allison's own "Broken." For these shows Allison will perform with his regular quartet: reedist Blake, guitarist Steve Cardenas, and drummer Rudy Royston. See also Saturday. 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12. —Peter Margasak
LIL WAYNE Right around the release of Tha Carter II in 2005, Lil Wayne went on a tear, putting out so much music that was so nearly flawless it was almost scary; he dropped mix tapes, an album (Tha Carter III), and individual tracks and made guest appearances at a bewildering rate. But in early 2010, he finally fucked up with his "rock album," Rebirth. It made him sound like a cough-syrup addict trying to make a Fall Out Boy record despite a total absence of talent for writing anything but rap songs—in no small part because that was exactly the situation. His return to more rap-oriented material, September's I Am Not a Human Being—recorded in a rush before an eight-month prison stint on gun charges—was shockingly unremarkable. Nightmarish visions of a world where Wayne had fallen off persisted until December, when he celebrated his recent freedom by dropping "6 Foot 7 Foot" (meant for the forthcoming Tha Carter IV), a massive, manic banger packed with astounding lyricism; not only did it mark a return to form, it also surpassed all but his brightest moments. Months later, I can still roll the line "real Gs move in silence like lasagna" around in my brain all day. Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Travis Barker, and Mixmaster Mike open. 7 PM, United Center, 1901 W. Madison, 312-455-4500, $49.75-$115.75. —Miles Raymer
- Shawn Brackbill
- Kurt Vile
YAN JUN, LI JIANHONG, AND WANG FAN Three of China's most important and prolific experimental musicians visit Chicago this week—so if you didn't know the country had any at all, here's a chance to get schooled. Aside from Japan, which has a rich history of musical experimentation—including early Fluxus artists like Yoko Ono and Group Ongaku and noise terrorists like Masonna and Hijokaidan—Pacific Asia hasn't made much of a showing on the international stage. But that may be changing: the 2003 compilation China: the Sonic Avant-Garde (Post-Concrete) claims to be the first release of its kind, and in 2009 Sub Rosa issued An Anthology of Chinese Experimental Music: 1992-2008, a knockout four-CD set annotated by influential Chinese noise musician and producer YAN JUN and Polish sound artist Zbigniew Karkowski. The set not only covers many approaches and styles—from creepy ambient to glitchy electronica to wildly violent noise to freaky post-psychedelia—but it establishes that the Chinese underground has been blossoming for decades. This bounty notwithstanding, it's tough for Westerners to track down most of the music—which makes it especially lucky that Yan, guitarist LI JIANHONG, and sound artist WANG FAN have come here. Li probably has the highest profile outside his homeland, with releases on labels like PSF, Archive, and Utech—the Milwaukee imprint that released 2009's Lo Pan, a swirl of electronic noise and guitar pyrotechnics by his duo Vagusnerve and laptop artist Vavabond. Wang is one China's earliest sound artists, at least according to the Sub Rosa set, and the raw, grainy ambience of his 2006 album Five Primary Elements (Kwan Yin) is sometimes almost soothing, embroidered with the sweet naturalism of much Chinese classical music. Yan is a concert presenter, label head (he runs Kwan Yin), and improviser, making connections with Japanese artists like Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M as well as the Seoul crew behind the monthly improvised-music series Relay. Tonight Li, Wang, and Yan are joined by cellist Marina Peterson, who organized these concerts, and violinist Jonathan Chen; the Chinese musicians will play solo sets, then as a trio, then form a quintet with their hosts. See also Sunday. On Sat 4/2 at 6 PM Li, Wang, and Yan will perform and talk on WNUR, 89.3 FM. 9 PM, Brown Rice, 4432 N. Kedzie, 312-543-7027, donation requested. —Peter Margasak
DEATH AND THE POWERS Death and the Powers, the season opener for Chicago Opera Theater, has been generating a lot of buzz, mostly about its gadgetry. Composer Tod Machover heads the Opera of the Future group at MIT's Media Lab, where this new 90-minute one-act was devised, and he's put a science-fantasy spin on a very old theme: humankind's quest for immortality. Aging billionaire Simon Powers (baritone James Maddalena) cheats death by downloading himself into his environment, turning the walls and fixtures of his house into a collective entity called "the System," animated by his consciousness. His family—a daughter, an adopted son, and wife number three—are left to wrestle with his metamorphosis and all it implies about the human condition. Directed by the estimable Diane Paulus, with a libretto by former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky and production design by Alex McDowell (whose movie credits include collaborations with Stephen Spielberg and Tim Burton), Death and the Powers features a "disembodied performance" by a luminous animatronic set, a choreographed robot chorus, a 15-piece live orchestra, and 143-speaker surround sound; Machover is able to tweak many elements of the staging on the fly from an iPad in the audience. The production arrives here after largely well-received performances in Monaco (last fall), whence came its funding, and Boston (in March). See also Wednesday; the final performances are Fri 4/8 and Sun 4/10. 7:30 PM, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, 312-334-7777, $40-$120. —Deanna Isaacs
OFF! Keith Morris cofounded both Black Flag and the Circle Jerks and after 35 years remains one of a few more or less unsullied figureheads in the great hierarchy of hardcore punk. This affords him certain privileges—including pretty much doing whatever the fuck he wants all the time, even if that means interrupting the production of the first Circle Jerks album in 14 years to start Off! In late 2009 Morris started writing songs with guitarist Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides) while Coats was producing the aforementioned Circle Jerks album, and in no time the two of them recruited bassist Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) and drummer Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket From the Crypt, Hot Snakes). They debuted live at SXSW in 2010, and in two days recorded the 16-song, 17-minute assault First Four EPs (Vice). Morris, lifer that he is, still has a thing or two sticking in his craw ("Now I'm Pissed," "Fuck People"), and he shares his feelings in frenzied blasts of raw, unfiltered punk. The songs are short, simple, and dirty, just as they should be, and Keith Morris is still Keith Morris, just with fewer dreads. What more could you want? Trash Talk headlines. 9 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $17, $15 in advance, 17+. —Kevin Warwick
BLUE CRANES, DAVE BRYANT On their new self-released EP, Cantus Firmus, Portland instrumental quintet BLUE CRANES tackle tunes by Blonde Redhead, Red House Painters, and David Bazan without a whiff of the crossover crassness or postmodern cleverness that typically infect jazz versions of indie-rock songs. They're a jazz band in name, but the indie rock they grew up with defines their sensibilities; the original tunes on last year's Observatories have hooky melodies and strong backbeats all over them. Saxophonists Reed Wallsmith and Joe "Sly Pig" Cunningham handle the lion's share of the melodic exposition and improvisation, but soloing isn't Blue Cranes' focus. They prefer an ensemble approach that relies on carefully charted arrangements—three of which include a string trio. For this U.S. tour Blue Cranes are traveling by rail, a choice sure to bolster their indie bona fides.
Because Boston has so many prestigious music schools, it's been home to many great musicians who focus on teaching, not on touring or recording, and thus don't attract much national attention—saxophonists George Garzone and Joe Maneri, for example. (Maneri earned wide acclaim only late in life.) Keyboardist DAVE BRYANT also falls into this category, but he's greatly respected by those who know his playing. In fact Ornette Coleman hired him as the first regular keyboardist for Prime Time, and Bryant played in the band for a decade, appearing on the 1995 album Tone Dialing. Coleman's influence is strong on Bryant's sole album, 1999's The Eternal Hang (Accurate). Cut with Garzone, bassist John Turner, and drummer Bob Gullotti, it's hard swinging, richly melodic, and harmonically free—a remarkably strong outing despite some chintzy, dated-sounding electronic keyboards. His Chicago appearance was arranged by local drummer Marc Riordan, also a more than competent pianist, who studied under Bryant while in high school. Local bassist Jason Roebke rounds out the group.
Blue Cranes headline; Bryant, Riordan, and Roebke open. Bryant plays again tomorrow with a different lineup; see Monday. 10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested. —Peter Margasak
YAN JUN, LI JIANHONG, AND WANG FAN See Friday. Tonight Yan, Li, and Wang will play in a series of mixed small groups with accordionist Frank Abbinanti, electronicists Brian Labycz and Joe Mills, trombonist Jonathon Kirk, cellists Marina Peterson and Jamie Kempkers, clarinetist Guillermo Gregorio, bassist Tatsu Aoki, drummer Steven Hess, flutist Chris Preissing, violinist Jonathan Chen, and bassoonist Katherine Young. 7 PM, Heaven Gallery, 1550 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-342-4597, donation requested.
ADVENTURE Benny Boeldt, mastermind of Baltimore synth-pop act Adventure, couldn't have picked a more apt title for his second full-length: Lesser Known (Carpark). In the neon-colored riot of Charm City's underground scene, Boeldt is just another electronic musician not named Dan Deacon (though he has toured as part of Deacon's ensemble). On his early work as Adventure, Boeldt went for an amped-up sound that recalls the dinky eight-bit soundtracks of old video games, creating instrumental dance pop with enough goofy good-time energy to compensate for the chintzy quality of the recordings. On Lesser Known, though, Adventure is much more expansive: the band is a trio instead of a solo act, and the tunes are lush and layered instead of ADD-addled and tinny, with proper vocals rather than just vocal samples. The old Adventure sound is still in there—you can hear it in the sweeping, high-pitched synth swells of "Rio" and the stuttering sampled speech at the heart of "Relax the Mind"—but now it's woven into a bigger tapestry. Toro y Moi headlines. 7:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15. —Leor Galil
ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE & THE MELTING PARAISO UFO According to local psych-rock torch bearer Steve Krakow, aka Plastic Crimewave, everyone in the Acid Mothers Temple "soul collective" has survived the disaster in Japan. Since the collective is so large—not everybody lives in AMT's home base of Nagoya, far enough south on Japan's Pacific coast to have been spared the worst—it's no small thing that they're all OK. This U.S. tour ought to help the four core members of the AMT Melting Paraiso UFO take their minds off the tragedy for a while, but I'm sure you'll be able to hear its reverberations in the band's music—their glorious, droning, ever-escalating psychedelic space rock is so open and accepting of any local vibe that I can't imagine it'd remain untouched by such a huge calamity in their homeland. Main man Kawabata Makoto, who judging from his discography does not sleep, leads this group as well as almost all of the Acid Mothers Temple's many, many offshoots, which tend to have confusingly similar names and wildly varying MOs. The Melting Paraiso UFO's upcoming Pink Lady Lemonade—You're From Inner Space (Alien8) is a sort of sequel and answer to the 2008 album Pink Lady Lemonade—You're From Outer Space by Acid Mothers Temple & the Cosmic Inferno, a darker, more metallic band the collective calls its "hellchild." The UFO plays Chicago pretty often—it helps that Kawabata and Krakow have been friends and collaborators since 1998—but no two shows are the same, and any opportunity to see one of the most creative and constantly evolving musicians in the world is a good one. Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $13. —Monica Kendrick
TAMARYN Before the release of their debut long-player last fall, San Francisco duo Tamaryn seemed like they might just wash away with the tide, right along with all the other dreamy, blissed-out bands that cropped up in 2010. Instead, The Waves (Mexican Summer) anchors them as a force within the echoey-girl-voice trend, or "newgaze" (or whatever stupid name you wanna coin); the band's stuttering snare and infinite expanses of fuzzed-up, fucked-out guitar will feel like home to anyone with an attachment to My Bloody Valentine, Lush, or the early 4AD catalog. The group's singer and namesake, Tamaryn, sighs about water, darkness, and feelings, and though her voice is light, she cuts a commanding path and holds her own against the raging layers of shimmery din. The Raveonettes headline. 9 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $18. —Jessica Hopper