Ulu | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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ULU

I've never really warmed up to Medeski, Martin & Wood, but if they inspire even one more band as creative as Ulu in its use of pop materials, all will be forgiven. This New York-based quintet revitalizes the idea of a modern "jam band"--a term so frequently misapplied that it's become an insult--by actually knowing how to jam, and better yet how to say something with its muralistic music. Ulu ranges all over the modern jazz-funk landscape, choosing its heroes smartly from the genre's many exemplars in the 1970s and beyond. When the band sticks Aaron Gardner's Echoplexed flute in front of electric-piano chords and chunky guitar accents, you can pretty much taste the fine funk of the early-70s Blue Note catalog; when Gardner switches to tenor and keyboardist Scott Chasolen takes to his Clavinet, you can't miss the reference to Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters. And the band has clearly heard the music of saxist Karl Denson, who's also mining the funk and dance rhythms of the past, most notably in the San Diego-based Greyboy Allstars. Ulu's self-produced, eponymously titled 1998 debut established the group as something of a cult phenomenon, despite practically nonexistent distribution; the recent Live at Wetlands-Preserve NYC, recorded in November of '99, does an even better job of conveying its brainy approach to ass-shaking grooves. (The new disc isn't much easier to track down, though: try ordering through www.ulu.net.) The band has advertised its shows with posters blaring "New Groove Generation"--which, judging from the new album, means it strips away the self-conscious mystification and soporific experimentation of groups like MM&W. Friday, 10 PM, the Note, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-0011.

NEIL TESSER

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