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Chicago bassist Nick Macri celebrates some roots and branches on his first solo release

Chicago bassist Nick Macri is the model of versatility. He has appeared with a formidable gallery of jazz, folk, and rock musicians, including Ken Vandermark, James Elkington, Laetitia Sadier, Bobby Conn, and instrumental combo Stirrup. Adept on electric bass guitar and acoustic double bass, he can be unassumingly supportive or assertively tuneful, depending on what […]

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Thumbscrew are an all-star ensemble where no one is the star

The members of Thumbscrew are nonpareil instrumentalists. Drummer Tomas Fujiwara easily balances ornamentation and propulsion at any speed; double bassist Michael Formanek plays with a woody tone whose bulk belies his ability to invest each note with its own expressive inflection; and guitarist Mary Halvorson employs fluid phrasing and adroit manipulation of delay effects that […]

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Wayfaring return after three years with a new set of spiritually informed folk jazz

James Falzone’s music has always spanned aesthetics. The Chicago native, who plays clarinets, shruti box, and percussion, has led and participated in ensembles that create various combinations of jazz, classical, and Arabic traditional music; he’s also served as an instructor at Columbia College and as music director of Grace Chicago Church. In 2016, he moved […]

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Shane Parish brings electrified sea shanties and improvisational explorations to Elastic Arts

There’s no pinning down Shane Parish. On acoustic guitar, he spins webs of bright, densely packed notes; plugged in, he dips into a deep well of jagged rhythms, gnarled chords, and elongated ribbons of humming sound. Stylistically, he seems equally at home meditating upon American folk tunes, negotiating high-speed hairpin turns with mathy combo Ahleuchatistas, […]

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Matchess draws music from the resources of memory on Sonescent

For roughly a decade, Chicago multi-instrumentalist Whitney Johnson maintained a fairly steady developmental arc with her solo project, Matchess. Her songs, which comprised layers of viola, organ, tape loops, drum machine, and voice, progressively materialized out of a murky, analog fog; the hooky, propulsive tracks on the 2018 release Sacracorpa glided like a lucid dream […]

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Basque musician Elena Setién makes sense of a changed world on Unfamiliar Minds

Basque singer and multi-instrumentalist Elena Setién began working on her latest English-language recording, Unfamiliar Minds, just as the first wave of COVID shut down Europe down. She uses both sound and language to get its pandemic-times message across: the echoing piano chords on the opening song, “2020,” evoke the numbness wrought by accumulating uncertainty, while […]

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Chicago’s Black musical visionaries charted paths for their communities in the 1950s and ’60s

Since the 1950s, Chicago has hosted a succession of visionary Black musical groups and societies. They’re best known as purveyors of avant-garde jazz, but that characterization sells short Sun Ra and his Arkestra, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), and Phil Cohran’s Artistic Heritage Ensemble. Each was—and in some cases still is—a […]

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Violist Jessica Pavone brings good vibrations to the new When No One Around You Is There but Nowhere to Be Found

About a decade ago, back trouble forced Jessica Pavone to stop playing viola for nearly two years. Since her return, the impact of music upon the health and well-being of both performers and listeners has been one of the New York-based artist’s essential concerns. When she was composing the material for her most recent ensemble […]

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Percussionists Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang return to in-person performance for their annual solstice concerts

Six years ago, I characterized Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang’s winter solstice concert series as “an anchor, a beacon, and a seasonal tradition in its own right.” The two drummers began performing as a duo at Links Hall in 1990; surrounded by percussion instruments from around the world, they would begin by candlelight, then play […]