In theory I shouldn’t even be able to preview a free-improv performance: with no scores, directives, or structures, anything can happen, right? But the reality is that even the best improvisers have trademark licks and tricks, from Evan Parker’s serpentine circular breathing to Mats Gustafsson’s pops and whistles. Chicago experimentalist Kevin Drumm is one of a few performers who really can transform themselves from gig to gig. He plays tabletop guitar (guitar laid flat and operated unconventionally) and sometimes a laptop computer, and uses an array of effects to render his source material unidentifiable in new ways every time. If there’s one constant in his work, it’s a predilection for miniature gestures–his music sometimes sounds like someone rummaging through a toolbox while trying not to wake up somebody sleeping in the same room. On Den (Sonoris), a duet with Japanese guitarist Taku Sugimoto, he complements his partner’s clean but disjointed six-string articulations with electronically altered doodles ranging from high-frequency squeals to terse blurts of amp buzz, while his solo work from a recent Italian split LP with reedist Bhob Rainey sends an erratic stream of flourishes through long wavering tones, the sound swelling with an architectural beauty only to be upended by sudden electronic explosions. On his latest work, Triangles (Moikai)–a series of collaborations with unidentified participants, credited solely to “Triangles”–his contributions intermingle with everything from ambient sound to acoustic guitar strumming. For this gig, Drumm will improvise with two drummers who, though flexible, aren’t known as improvisers: Steve Butters, an accomplished new-music percussionist, and Glenn Kotche, who recently joined Wilco. Wednesday, August 8, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. The following night Drumm will DJ with Austrian laptop whiz Pita as part of the Transmissions festival, on a bill with Janek Schaefer and Vote Robot (see separate Critic’s Choice).

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