The Reader's guide to the 2012 Umbrella Music Festival | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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The Reader's guide to the 2012 Umbrella Music Festival

Chicago's bravest jazz fest features Sven-Ake Johansson, William Parker, Fred Van Hove, Joe Morris, and many more


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In 2012 the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events has made all kinds of blunders—shit-canning the Music Without Borders series, eliminating the majority of the live music at the Chicago Cultural Center for most of the year, allowing bureaucratic hokeypokey to compromise the World Music Festival—but it was smart enough to keep hosting European Jazz Meets Chicago, the mini fest that kicks off the annual Umbrella Music Festival. This year European Jazz Meets Chicago, featuring players from nine European countries alongside top-notch locals, is Wed 11/7 and Thu 11/8 at the Cultural Center, and the fest continues through Sun 11/11 with concerts at the three regular Umbrella Music venues: Elastic, which hosts improvised ­music on Thursdays; the Hideout, which hosts the Immediate Sound series on Wednesdays; and the Hungry Brain, which hosts the Transmission series on Sundays. Nearly every act is worth checking out—and if you're curious to know which I'm most excited to hear, they're the ones I've written about most lavishly in the complete schedule that follows.

Wednesday, November 7, Chicago Cultural Center, free

Clementine Gasser/Tim Daisy Duo

Cellist Clementine Gasser, born in Switzerland and based in Austria, plays with Chicago drummer Tim Daisy. Preston Bradley Hall, 6:30 PM

Dominykas Vysniauskas Quartet

Lithuanian trumpeter Dominykas Vysniauskas plays with three locals: alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella, bassist Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Avreeayl Ra. Claudia Cassidy Theater, 7:15 PM

Angelika Niescier Trio

Angelika Niescier Umbrella Music Festival
  • Angelika Niescier

Polish-born alto saxophonist Angelika Niescier has made her name in Germany over the past decade or so, most notably with a terrific quartet called Sublim that also includes pianist Florian Weber. Last year she took probably the biggest single aesthetic stride of her career with the fluid, hard-swinging, and exploratory trio album Quite Simply (Enja), cut with two Americans, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Niescier can leap from serene and contemplative to blazing and declamatory in a single bar, yet even at her most explosive she delivers her clean-tone lines with careful consideration. Her improvisations and written material display a touch of Steve Coleman's rhythmic sophistication and tightly coiled architecture, and when she tackles Ornette Coleman's "Congeniality" on Quite Simply it's easy to her the bebop lilt she shares with both Colemans. For her Chicago debut Niescier will be joined by a limber Chicago rhythm section consisting of bassist Nate McBride and drummer Frank Rosaly. Randolph Street Cafe, 8 PM


This fine transatlantic quintet combines a French rhythm section (drummer Denis Fournier and bassist Bernard Santacruz) and a trio of current and former Chicagoans (cellist Tomeka Reid, flutist Nicole Mitchell, and reedist Hanah Jon Taylor). The band's brand-new self-titled debut for Rogue Art, which I've regrettably only been able to listen to once, ranges from focused, high-energy free jazz to meditative ballads such as the haunting "Prayer for Wadud," which Reid wrote for mercurial cellist Abdul Wadud. Claudia Cassidy Theater, 8:45 PM

Thursday, November 8, Chicago Cultural Center, free

Artur Majewski Quartet

Polish trumpeter Artur Majewski—best known as half of Wroclaw-based duo Mikrokoletyw—plays with an extra-strength Chicago rhythm section consisting of bassists Joshua Abrams and Harrison Bankhead and drummer Steve Hunt. Claudia Cassidy Theater, 6:30 PM

Jacques Demierre/Jim Baker Duo

Shape-shifting Swiss pianist Jacques Demierre plays with pianist and ARP wizard Jim Baker, who's more or less his Chicago counterpart. Preston Bradley Hall, 7:15 PM

Daniele D'Agaro Quartet

Italian reedist Daniele D'Agaro returns to Chicago after a long absence, working with three locals: drummer Mike Reed, vibist Jason Adasiewicz, and bassist Jason Roebke. Randolph Street Cafe, 8 PM

Sven-Ake Johansson

It's hard to know where to begin with Swedish percussionist and polymath Sven-Ake Johansson: Is he a bebop drummer? A visual artist? A Fluxus-style madman? Actually he's all of the above and more, and over the decades (he's lived in Berlin since 1968) he's never confined himself to any single approach or discipline. Like many early exponents of European free jazz—he appears on key recordings by Peter Brötzmann, Manfred Schoof, and the Globe Unity Orchestra, among others—Johansson is rooted in bebop, and he's continued to carry its torch in bands with adventurous musicians half his age (he plays with trumpeter Axel Dörner in the superb Cool Quartett, for instance). But he also acts or delivers texts with musical accompaniment—on the recent Für Paul Klee (Jazzwerkstatt), he recites the painter's poems over music written by Johansson and his bandmates. He's also adept at gestural free improvisation, as he proves on the 2012 trio album Grosse Gartenbauausstellung (Olof Bright), with Dörner and inside-the-piano tinkerer Andrea Neumann—he trades abstract squiggles and terse percussive statements with his partners' stabs of sound. Over the years Johansson has made some classic solo percussion records, including 1972's Schlingerland and 2010's Cymbals in the Night (Broken Research), and he'll also play solo here. It's a context where his absurdist humor really shines through: I saw him give a solo concert in Vasteras, Sweden, in 2010, where he played his drum kit like a child tackling an outsize toy, combining ham-fisted mock amateurism and excited wonder. At one point he used cucumbers as drumsticks and pressed his cymbals into service as vegetable cutters—he scattered slivers of cucumber around the stage, then thoughtfully tasted a slice himself. Preston Bradley Hall, 8:45 PM

Cactus Truck

This wild improvising trio from Amsterdam is led by saxophonist John Dikeman, an American expat who belies his upbringing on the plains of Nebraska with a ferociously urban attack that takes the steamroller power of Peter Brötzmann and the duck-call squeals of early John Zorn as starting points and only gets more extreme from there. Electric guitarist Jasper Stadhouders is every bit Dikeman's match in terms of volume and chaos, and drummer Onno Govaert stokes the band's fires with spazzy rumbles and unflagging motion. Cactus Truck's furious energy on the recent Brand New for China! (Public Eyesore) suggests a European take on the no-holds-barred mayhem of Weasel Walter's Flying Luttenbachers. Claudia Cassidy Theater, 9:30 PM

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