Jazz | Aram Shelton returns for a tour of Chicago
It’s not easy to make a long-distance relationship work, but the reunions sure are sweet. Saxophonist and clarinetist Aram Shelton, a formidable contributor to Chicago’s jazz scene during his seven years here, has lived in Oakland, California, since 2005. But he comes back to town several times a year, and plays here so often—he has seven local gigs with five bands scheduled for the second half of June—that it’s fair to wonder why he doesn’t move back.
“Part of me would like to be in Chicago more often,” he admits. “I’m pretty productive while in town, and there are enough projects there to keep me busy. But I have some projects out in California that are moving along, and the living situation is tough to beat. Also, the musicians I play with in Chicago are busy enough that there isn’t any guarantee that those groups would play more often if I was in town.”
During this visit Shelton will celebrate the release of There Was . . . (Clean Feed), an album by his briskly swinging chamber-jazz quartet, Arrive, and cut two more records with other groups. His first three gigs (and one of those sessions) will be with the Fast Citizens, a sextet whose revolving-door leadership has fallen to Fred Lonberg-Holm; the band will first work up his compositions, which showcase him on four-string tenor guitar as well as his customary cello, at an open rehearsal at Heaven Gallery on Sat 6/18. The Aram Shelton Quartet, an ebullient two-reedist combo with fellow Fast Citizen Keefe Jackson, will also record after a show with Arrive at Elastic on Thu 6/23. And Shelton will wrap up this visit on Tue 6/28 at the Whistler with a new quartet: trombonist Jeb Bishop, bassist Anton Hatwich, and drummer Mike Reed. —Bill Meyer
Jazz | Unheard music: Mauritanian guitar on a Chicago label
Mauritania’s most famous and important musician, singer Dimi Mint Abba, died June 4 at age 52, but you probably didn’t see an obituary. Even if you know where Mauritania is—in northwest Africa, between Morocco and Senegal—you probaby haven’t heard any of its music. If you’re a fan of so-called desert-rock bands like Tinariwen, Etran Finatawa, and Terakaft, though, you’ve heard something similar. The sound of Mauritanian griots, who are known as iggawen, is a hybrid of Berber, Tuareg, and sub-Saharan styles.
On Tue 6/21 Latitude Records, an imprint of Chicago’s Locust Music, will release the double CD Wallahi le Zein!! Wezin, Jakwar and Guitar Boogie From the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Compiled by Matthew Lavoie, who runs the fantastic blog African Music Treasures for the Voice of America, the set is to my knowledge the first Mauritanian music commercially released in the States. As Lavoie explains in his in-depth liner notes, the country lacks a music industry, and what little Mauritanian music has already come out is on European labels. Most performances are at private events—parties, weddings, birthdays, baptisms—and whoever hires the musicians can record the music. These bootleg-quality live recordings often make their way to “standards,” ramshackle stalls that duplicate tapes and sell them cheap; over the years Lavoie has bought more than 700 such cassettes in the capital city of Nouakchott, and it’s from that collection that he’s chosen the 28 searing guitar-driven cuts here.
Traditionally the main instrument of the country’s two dominant ethnic groups, the Beydane and Haratine, was the tidinitt, an hourglass-shaped lute with four or five strings, but in the mid-70s the electric guitar took over. Most of the guitarists on Wallahi le Zein!!, each accompanied by a hand percussionist and sometimes a singer chanting poetry, play with truly nasty tones, and their music is heavily improvised, guided only by a set of five strictly ordered modes. The individual tracks all stay in one of these modes, but Lavoie has sequenced them according to the proper order the modes would follow in an evening-long performance. Terse, bluesy runs, vicious stabs, and tightly coiled solos cut through even the worst fidelity with a biting, brittle attack. If only all field recordings were this exciting. —Peter Margasak
Garage | Coming soon from the CoCoComa camp: Marble Vanity
Bill and Lisa Roe’s beloved garage-punk group CoCoComa is on indefinite hiatus—between their infant daughter and their record label, Trouble in Mind, they couldn’t maintain the band’s pace. But they’ve still got the itch to make music, and this winter they worked up a set of baroque pop songs at home. “This is very much less punk, less rock,” Bill says. “I like to call it ‘twinkle ding-dong music’—it’s got acoustic guitars and bongo and flute and harpsichord and layers of harmony vocals. It’s very much influenced by stuff that Lisa and I listen to that never made it into CoCoComa, like the Zombies, the Left Banke, and the Yellow Balloon.”
They named the project the Marble Vanity and recruited Andrew Anderson of UK trash-pop outfit the Hipshakes (who was in Chicago after finishing grad school at Indiana University) and Hollows bassist Emma Hospelhorn (who plays the harpsichord, piano, and flute parts) to help record a self-titled 12-song album in Garageband, finishing the basic tracks over two weeks in December and January. They’ve made it into something of a concept record, with a story that ties the tunes together: it involves a boy, his pet monkey, and their experiments with LSD. The Roes are currently adding finishing touches—including horn-section overdubs—in preparation for a September release on local label Slow Fizz. The Marble Vanity plays its first show Fri 8/12 at the Empty Bottle opening for the Limiñanas, a French group that’s released a single and an album on Trouble in Mind. —Miles Raymer