Late last year the NEA gave HotHouse a grant of $10,000 to commission new works by three Chicago musicians; a series of premieres this weekend for the Innovative Composers Project will reveal what came of it. Of the three composers, reedist Ed Wilkerson is the most accomplished–he’s best known for the witty, novel, and complex writing he does for his octet 8 Bold Souls–and much of the preconcert buzz surrounds his jazz opera about Harold Washington, Harold in Chicago, which he’ll present Friday night as a work in progress. Wilkerson has scored his piece for an ensemble as measured in size and force as the late mayor was not–string quartet, three winds, bass, and percussion–but he’s proven his ability to get very big sounds out of a group like this. On Saturday the gifted and iconoclastic percussionist Michael Zerang offers Ecstatic Dissent, a piece inspired by his Assyrian heritage; he’s assembled a cross section of the city’s new-music community to perform it with Alan Kushan, who plays the santir, a Persian dulcimer. The band includes AACM flutist Nicole Mitchell, north-siders Fred Lonberg-Holm and Kent Kessler on cello and bass, and the classically inclined reedist Guillermo Gregorio. The Sunday finale will be Approximation and Compliance by pianist and ARP synthesist Jim Baker; details about this piece were still hard to come by at press time (even the title remains subject to change), but it promises to be the least “composed” work (in the traditional sense) of the weekend. Baker’s lineup isn’t set yet either, but it will likely include his longtime collaborators bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Steve Hunt. Of course, these being premieres, I haven’t heard any of the pieces, but the stature of the composers and players promises music of interest, at the very least, and possibly of importance. Friday, December 12, 9 PM, Saturday, December 13, 7 PM, and Sunday, December 14, 7:30 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. Kushan will perform small-group improvisation with other members of Zerang’s band Friday, December 12, 9 PM, Candlestick Maker, 4432 N. Kedzie; 773-463-0158.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Michael Jackson.