On their long-delayed third album, Bell System (Rift)–most of which was recorded at Chicago’s Idful Music with John McEntire more than three years ago–the bicontinental percussion duo Les Batteries continues to flout expectations. Together New Yorker Rick Brown (Run On, Timber, Fish & Roses) and Frenchman Guigou Chenevier (Volapuk, Etron Fou) take concise but eventful journeys without resorting to brainless funk, drum-circle trippiness, or sterile academicism for narrative help. Their compositions are so polyrhythmically complex that collisions often seem inevitable, but the pieces are fitted together like Swiss watch parts–so tightly that at the end of a tune you may find yourself exhaling in relief. The percussive onslaught is abetted by staticky electronics, sing-songy sax lines, zigzag keyboard riffs, and spoken word that’s sometimes conversational (“Resignation”) and sometimes hysterical (“Le Vent a la Crete des Vagues”), but the drums are always in control. Due to the geographical distance and both men’s busy schedules–Chenevier, who is from Avignon, has just released Les Rumeurs de la Ville (Cuneiform), a stunning musical portrait of his hometown that showcases his folk- and classical-tinged writing and beautifully incorporates the work of student musicians from a workshop he taught–performances by Les Batteries are few and far between. But they’re always a marvel to behold. The superb bill is rounded out by Sue Garner, Brown’s wife and partner in Run On; Brokeback, the solo project of Tortoise bassist Doug McCombs; and the Chicago Underground Trio (see Spot Check). Saturday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Yael Routtenberg.