The Thing With Joe McPhee | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Thing With Joe McPhee


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Like the Bad Plus, which has gotten loads of attention for playing jazz versions of songs by the likes of Nirvana, Aphex Twin, and Abba, the Thing brings a jazz sensibility to rock covers. But instead of sticking close to the familiar melodies it plugs into rock's primal power to energize its febrile free jazz. The Scandinavian trio--saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten, and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love--debuted in 2000 with an album-length investigation of Don Cherry tunes, but they opened their second record, the superb She Knows . . . (Crazy Wisdom, 2001), with PJ Harvey's "To Bring You My Love," stripping it down to an elemental, dirgelike groove and then letting rip. On the rest of the album, their first with multi-instrumentalist and regular collaborator Joe McPhee, they merged rock's tightly controlled chaos with high-level free jazz. They've since recorded songs by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Sonics, and the White Stripes--and played with the rock band Cato Salsa Experience on a recent EP, Sounds Like a Sandwich (Smalltown Superjazz)--but they treat the structures of those tunes as mere starting points for their ferocious, wildly dynamic performances. On their latest album, Live at Bla (Smalltown Superjazz), they play tunes by McPhee, Charles Tyler, and David Murray in unspoiled, flowing medleys, and when the White Stripes' "Aluminum" bleeds into Cherry's "Awake Nu" it sounds like the most natural thing in the world. The Thing's intense focus and lightning-quick reflexes make them one of the most explosive jazz groups I've ever heard, and when they're joined by McPhee and his lyric, malleable trumpet, as they are here, those qualities are only heightened. Drummer Nilssen-Love also duets with local trombonist Jeb Bishop on Tuesday at the Bottle; see listings for details. Wed 11/16, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10.

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