Town and Country | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Town and Country

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On its early records this local quartet used acoustic guitar, harmonium, and a pair of double basses to make rustic chamber music influenced equally by John Fahey's idiosyncratic Americana, Tony Conrad's string drones, and Morton Feldman's sparse, glacially paced compositions. In a blindfold test, a fan of those discs might not recognize the new Up Above (Thrill Jockey) as the work of the same band--the music is still entirely acoustic, but now it sounds more like someone made an album of mashups using the African and Southeast Asian volumes of the Nonesuch Explorer Series. On "Cloud Seeding" the muted, fluttering tones of Jim Dorling's shakuhachi swoop around Josh Abrams's jaunty ostinato on guimbri (a Moroccan bass lute), which high-steps through Liz Payne and Ben Vida's halting, irregular hand-drum and shaker patterns. And on "Belle Isle" the tentative wheezing of Abrams's khaen (a Laotian mouth organ) floats over the band's buzzing thicket of tambura, chimes, and thumb piano like the whistle of an old steam engine puffing through a jungle at dusk, just as all the bugs and frogs have really started to make noise. The biggest change, however, is that after five instrumental releases Town and Country have started using vocals: Dorling makes like a Tuvan throat singer on "Fields and Parks of Easy Access," and massed monklike chanting adds another layer to the title tune's swirling chaos of gnashing, chattering percussion and riotous overtones. Robert Lowe's solo project, Lichens, opens the show; Acid Leads (aka Drag City staffer Zach Cowie) and DJ Supreme Court spin between sets. Wed 3/15, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8.

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