The foundation of Chicago’s creative music scene is clearly its small groups, but one sign of its maturity has been the recent emergence of larger ensembles–including Michael Zerang’s nonet, the Peter Brštzmann Chicago Tentet, Fred Lonberg-Holm’s lightbox orchestras, and the nine-piece Vandermark Territory Band. The Chicago Improvisors Group–usually a tentet–came about in part because trombonist Jeb Bishop wanted to try a large band that improvised every note, a practice with roots in Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra, several incarnations of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, and the King †bŸ …rchestrŸ, led by German saxophonist and clarinetist Wolfgang Fuchs and clearly the most direct influence on the CIG. But pursuing this principle is a dicey proposition: In free improvisation, one rule of thumb holds that groups get exponentially more unwieldy with each member past five, and once you get into double digits, structures that might otherwise have arisen over the course of a piece end up mushy and blurred. The players can’t count on close listening from one another in such a setting–when you’ve got nine bandmates instead of two, it can be almost impossible to sort out all that sonic information in time to respond. So Bishop suggested that the CIG initially use some prestructured material–skeletal architectures, not fleshed-out scores–and then move into totally free territory once a group identity had been established. I’ve seen both shows the CIG has played so far, and what’s most remarkable is how quickly the ensemble has found that identity. There are fragments of electronic music courtesy of Jim Baker’s ARP synthesizer and Kevin Drumm’s various gizmos, elements from the European tradition of extended techniques, and bits of fiery, organic American energy jazz–but they mesh in a truly unique way. The group is still using structures–generally two long pieces per set, sketched out by Bishop and saxist Ken Vandermark–but I look forward to the day they toss the instruction sheets altogether. Everyone in the band is sensitive without being shy, and each understands the key to any big group’s success: not everyone plays all the time. Michael Colligan and Dave Rempis join Vandermark on reeds; the brass section is Bishop on trombone and Todd Margasak on cornet; Baker and Drumm, in addition to their electronics, play piano and guitar; bassists Josh Abrams and Kent Kessler intertwine their contrasting styles; and for this show Hamid Drake and Tim Daisy fill in for regular drummer Adam Vida. Sunday, 2 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.


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