Aug. 25 felt like a quintessential night of live Chicago music: seeing Tortoise at Millennium Park, followed by Ryley Walker’s late concert at the Empty Bottle. Tortoise’s instrumental music resonated beautifully in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, with the band members constantly shifting around the instruments, playing intricate patterns with almost astonishing precision. The show also featured a nice opening by Homme (a duo I’d seen recently at the Pitchfork Music Festival).
Ryley Walker’s music seems quite different from Tortoise at first glance, and yet, there’s some similarity, especially when he is playing live with his excellent band. Like Tortoise and other Chicago bands — like Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society — Walker and his collaborators know how to stretch a song out, to revel in grooves, to explore a chord progression or melodic motif in ways that are hypnotic and enchanting. Walker’s new album, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, is terrific, but its jammy folk-rock songs only hint at how jammy the group gets in concert. I recommend buying the deluxe 2-LP version, which adds a record containing a 41-minute live version of “Sullen Mind,” a song that is a mere 6 1/2 minutes in its studio version.
Walker’s set on Thursday at the Empty Bottle was a marvel. And it was particularly special because it offered a rare chance to see Leroy Bach — who produced the album — sitting in with the band. And it’s uncertain how many more times we’ll get a chance to see the fantastic drummer Frank Rosaly playing with this band, as we did on Thursday; I’m told that Rosaly has moved from Chicago to Europe. That’s a loss for Chicago, but Thursday night’s wonderful sets by Tortoise and Walker showed that the city’s independent music scene — where rock, jazz, country and experimental music often overlap — is as vibrant as ever.
Millennium Park’s series of free summer concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, always one of the highlights of the year in Chicago, is in full swing now. Monday’s headliner was Omar Souleyman (click here to see my photos of Souleyman), but the show also featured a top-notch opening act, Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams and the talented ensemble of players he calls the Natural Information Society. Abrams’ second record with a version of this group, Represencing, was one of my top 10 albums for 2012 — and the current lineup sounded fabulous in the Pritzker stage on Monday, jamming to hypnotic grooves with psychedelic and exotic flair.
Abrams played the guimbri, a North African instrument, throughout the show, accompanied by the versatile guitarist Emmett Kelly (leader of the great Cairo Gang); drummers Frank Rosaly and Mikel Avery; Lisa Alvarado on harmonium and gong; and Ben Boye on autoharp and keyboards. It was glorious.
In addition to his recordings as Dolly Varden’s main singer-songwriter, Steve Dawson has released a couple of solo albums, and now he’s getting ready to record another. He played a free show Sunday night, Feb. 16, at Simon’s Tavern in Andersonville (a cozy drinking establishment that features live music on Sundays and Wednesdays, without ever doing much in the way of publicity).
Dawson was fronting a band he calls Funeral Bonsai Wedding — Frank Rosaly on drums, Jason Roebke on bass and Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone. I’m not that familiar with Roebke, but I know Rosaly and Adasiewicz as two of the most inventive and hardest-working players in town. With this stellar lineup, Dawson’s music took on a jazzy vibe, though it still sounded solidly within the realm of rock music. As the band stretched out some of the songs, Dawson took it as an opportunity to let loose on electric guitar solos. His wife and fellow Dolly Varden member, Diane Christiansen, also joined in on vocals for a few songs.
It all made for a very fine evening of music — except for the unwelcome vocals of one drunk guy yelling from the bar, who was eventually ejected from Simon’s, much to the relief of everyone nearby. Hey, when you play in a bar, these things are going to happen sometimes.
Jeff Parker and Nels Cline, two virtuoso guitarists who are fluent in both jazz and rock, played together Aug. 8 at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Backed by drummer Frank Rosaly and bassist Nate McBride, they played their version of the 1964 avant-garde jazz album The Turning Point by pianist Paul Bley, Sun Ra saxophonist John Gilmore, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Paul Motian. You didn’t have to be familiar with the original to appreciate the subtle and terrific playing by Cline, Parker, Rosaly and McBride.
The always-inventive Chicago drummer Frank Rosaly has played with many groups of many musical styles, but the sextet Cicada Music is an especially personal project for him. Rosaly is the leader of this ensemble, which has just released its debut album on the Delmark label. The group played April 14 at the Hideout. While Rosaly’s intricate percussion was as remarkable as ever, it was clear from the first note that this was more than just a vehicle for his drumming. These compositions are designed for a full band to explore — and the interplay among the six musicians on the Hideout stage was impressive to behold.
In case you missed it … Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth played two shows this past weekend in a little Logan Square club called The Burlington. Despite Moore’s fame, the gigs seemed to be a bit under the radar. They were part of the four-day Neon Marshmallow, a diverse and sometimes daring music festival event that was held in the Empty Bottle and Viaduct Theatre in prior years. I wish I could’ve attended more of the festival this year, but other things on my schedule got in the way. But I did manage to catch Moore’s performance on Sunday night — which was especially cool because it featured Moore collaborating and improvising with Frank Rosaly, one of Chicago’s most inventive drummers.
Rosaly made skittering, clattering noises with his kit — occasionally holding cymbals and other percussion pieces instead of drumsticks — creating rhythms that skipped around in unexpected patterns. Moore was using old-school equipment — just one electric guitar, a few pedals, an amp and a couple of bars or tools to assault his strings. Together, they painted an abstract sonic landscape. Near the end, Moore laconically leaned back against his amp, taking his hands off his guitar and letting the feedback ebb and flow. Across the stage, Rosaly was the manic opposite of Moore’s frozen figure, attacking his drums with a rapidity that approached the impossibly fast hammering of woodpeckers. And then Moore abruptly lunged to the middle of the stage and stomped on a guitar pedal just as Rosaly shut himself off and brought the noise to a climactic halt.
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