Tunnels | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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In the post-postrock era, when electronic jazz induces trance as often as dance, I'm becoming almost nostalgic for the fusion years. A great many albums that sounded trite within a few years of their release now strike with power and in some cases integrity, and even records by mediocre bands have aged well compared to much of what followed. In the late 70s, British bassist Percy Jones played with Brand X, a terrific fusion outfit that, like Tony Williams Lifetime before it and Tribal Tech after it, made winning, sophisticated instrumental music with solos that didn't reference jazz but easily outstripped rock. Brand X managed to alienate jazz fans and confuse rockers, and it died in the 80s; by the time Jones revived it in the 90s he'd also formed Tunnels with drummer Frank Katz, guitarist Van Manakas, and MIDI-vibraphonist Marc Wagnon. Katz also drums for the new Brand X, and this intensive partnership with Jones results in a tight, polished rhythmic interplay. Manakas, a student of Pat Metheny, comes into his own with the rollicking solos on the band's most recent disc, Painted Rock (Buckyball). But Tunnels takes a left turn with Wagnon: using the vibes' sound as one of a dozen colors, he brings a glassy, percussive edge to the music, and between his MIDI-generated timbres and Jones's dark, dimensional bass, you might swear the band included a keyboardist. A well-kept secret and a wonder, Tunnels plays smart and valid postfusion, gutsy but steering clear of bombast. The band will open for vocalist Sarah Pillow, whose new album, Nuove Musiche (Buckyball), features Jones and Brand X guitarist John Goodsall. Thursday, November 8, 8 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln; 773-404-9494.

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