Michael Zerang and Jim Baker Credit: Todd Carter

The backbone of Chicago’s illustrious history of improvised music is made up of a small handful of indefatigable players who endlessly explore and play gigs—sometimes for just a handful of folks—but few have been as long devoted to spontaneous experimentation as keyboardist Jim Baker and percussionist Michael Zerang. Each Tuesday this month at the Hideout they’ve been celebrating their musical relationship, which goes back 35 years. Baker is a jazz-trained master who’s long bridged the divide between Bill Evans and Cecil Taylor, while Zerang, who grew up playing in his father’s Assyrian band, Kismet, has crossed lines between Arabic traditions, free jazz, and theater music, and for decades has served a crucial role as a live music programmer. Both have valued risk-taking above all else, and both have long preferred new challenges to old standards, colliding pure sound and freewheeling rhythms in ever-changing proportions. Baker is as fluent on APR synthesizer (his focus in this particular project) as he is on piano, and Zerang is arguably more impressive with makeshift setups than with a standard kit. Most of the November concerts have featured collaborations with emerging musicians who operate outside of the jazz world—including trance violist Matchess and electroacoustic experimenter Aaron Zarzutzki—which says something about the duo’s continued engagement with new sounds and approaches. The final two shows of this residency both consist of duo sets from Baker and Zerang followed by quartets where they’re joined by two guests. On Tuesday, November 21, the guests are Zarzutzki and avant-garde vocalist Carol Genetti; on November 28 they’re two fellow jazz veterans, drummer Steve Hunt (NRG Ensemble) and inventive sound artist Joseph Kramer (Coppice).   v