Tortoise | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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I can't begin to count the number of references I've seen to Tortoise's jazz leanings, yet in all the recordings and performances I've witnessed over the last six years, I've never heard the band borrow more than the occasional voicing or riff from that genre. And as for its supposed penchant for improvisation--well, if anything, Tortoise's last Chicago show, way back in May 1997 at the Vic, demonstrated a collective inability to wing it. Dwarfed by the stage and looking almost timid, the group did fine on older material but struggled to put across the new stuff they played that night. Much refined, that material ended up on the band's third and best LP, TNT (Thrill Jockey), which makes plain that Tortoise is an outfit that likes to plan its moves painstakingly: the album was largely composed with a computer program called Pro Tools, which allowed engineer John McEntire to record parts by himself and the other members, then endlessly shuffle bits and pieces of music onscreen. Though the new tunes--and most of them can rightly be called tunes--are the collective's most organic-sounding work yet, this process ensures that they're at least as hard to translate to a live setting as tracks from 1996's Millions Now Living Will Never Die, which themselves took significant amounts of touring to polish. An additional difficulty is presented by the fact that guitarist Dave Pajo, who contributed distinctive parts to TNT, is no longer with the band. Fortunately the group--McEntire, Doug McCombs, John Herndon, Dan Bitney, and jazz-grounded guitarist Jeff Parker--has been touring nonstop for the last three months, so while it may not be able to reproduce all the subtleties, at the very least Tortoise is likely to do the record justice. Saturday, 10 PM, and Sunday, 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Diana Adamis.

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