Tone Road Ramblers | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Tone Road Ramblers


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The new-classical-music realm sometimes operates like a series of dark, disconnected chambers: composers are writing, but they have to look high and low for ensembles willing and able to interpret their works; meanwhile performers must scour the earth for scores that suit their interests and abilities. In 1981 a handful of performers and composer-performers banded together as the Tone Road Ramblers to deal with the problem collectively. Today the Ramblers are flutist John Fonville, who teaches at the University of California at San Diego; trumpeter Ray Sasaki and trombonist Morgan Powell, both teachers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; renowned New York trombonist (and former Powell student) Jim Staley; and newer members Eric Mandat, a clarinetist who teaches at Carbondale, and the exceptional Chicago percussionist Steve Butters. Despite their academic stations, the Ramblers show little tolerance for stuffed-shirt seriousness: though their playing is intense and precise, their music is brassy, eclectic, and playful, incorporating elements from free improv (Staley's specialty), jazz (Powell's specialty), microtonality (Fonville's specialty), American experimentalism from Ives to Cage, and a cross section of contemporary classical's many other dialects. Compositions by Powell and Fonville are showcased on their sole full-length CD, 1994's Intersections & Detours (Einstein), as are pieces by sympathetic nonmembers, including ex-member Michael Udow, a percussionist. This gig is a fairly rare opportunity to hear Staley, whose work with John Zorn, Ikue Mori, Zeena Parkins, and many other leading downtown New York improvisers has remained potent and exciting for more than two decades now. Thursday, September 3, 7:30 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. JOHN CORBETT

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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