Zither maestro Laraaji continues exploring musical paths no one else can see | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Zither maestro Laraaji continues exploring musical paths no one else can see


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Born Edward Larry Gordon in 1943, composer, zither maestro, and experimental musician Laraaji has spent his life making music that captures humanity’s pulse and then some. He’s walked a colorful path while connecting threads between Sun Ra’s experimentation and Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda’s devotional music with new age mysticism and critically championing ambient music and performative public art. Born in Philadelphia, Laraaji took up musical composition with a scholarship to Howard University, got hooked on the comedy circuit, moved to New York, and wound up with a role in Robert Downey Sr.’s 1969 cult comedy Putney Swope. In the early 70s he got turned on to autoharps while participating in cross-genre open-mike series. From there he began to focus his energy on the zither, dedicating himself to intense research about spirituality and busking around New York with an amplified zither. It was through one of these public performances—in Washington Square Park in 1979—that he caught the ear of Brian Eno. The influential musician produced Laraaji’s 1980 album Day of Radiance as part of his celebrated Ambient series. In the years since, Laraaji has continued to produce a mound of material—last year All Saints released a pair of full-lengths, the levitating Bring on the Sun and the darker Sun Gong. Part of the challenge with trying to nail what Laraaji is all about lies in sifting through all that material, especially since some of his work is released only in small batches on cassette. Fortunately Numero Group rescued such a release earlier this year. In the process of reissuing 1984’s glistening Vision Songs, Vol. 1, the label also shed new light on his mid-80s NYC public-access television program, Celestrana, which combined musical performance with conversations about art and spirituality and occasional appearances by a puppet. Tonight Laraaji performs with assistance from Numero co-owner Rob Sevier.   v

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