Zoom | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The rare combination of drums, electric guitar, and horn makes for some exceptionally flexible and creative jazz. Dave Douglas's Tiny Bell Trio, the short-lived collaboration of Han Bennink, Ray Anderson, and Christy Doran, and Seattle's Babkas (also defunct) all had dynamic strategies for filling in the instrumental gaps--employing unison parts to create a bigger sound, for example, or manipulating various instruments to suggest bass lines. Switzerland's Zoom--drummer Lucas Niggli, guitarist Philipp Schaufelberger, and trombonist Nils Wogram--bring their own innovations to this micro tradition. In the busy, often spiky arrangements on the group's terrific debut album, Spawn of Speed (Intakt, 2001), guitar and 'bone scampered to keep up with Niggli's frenetic, prog-inflected machinations; one tune, "Oxygene Beats," was a thrilling approximation of Congolese pop. Zoom's subsequent efforts have been calmer, with lyrical, zigzagging melodies replacing breakneck rhythms. On Big Ball (Intakt, 2003) and the forthcoming Sweat they've integrated additional players, taking on a surprising new plushness without compromising their essential scrappiness. Schaufelberger is a dazzling guitarist for whom complex, stop-and-start lead runs are a walk in the park, but the real star is Wogram, with his multiphonic technique and richly tuneful lines. Thursday they'll be joined by cornetist Josh Berman and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. Wednesday, June 23, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499 ($7); Thursday, June 24, 10 PM, 3030, 3030 W. Cortland; 773-862-3616 (donation requested).

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/F. Pfeffer.

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