Every year the Umbrella Music Festival presents a diverse array of cutting-edge jazz and improvisation from across Europe, the U.S., and of course Chicago, and its sixth installment demonstrates the kind of broad, deep vision that has made it one of the best new-music events in the country, large or small. It kicks off with a two-night fest within a fest called European Jazz Meets Chicago on Wednesday and Thursday, November 2 and 3, and then carries on through Sunday with concerts at each of the regular Umbrella Music venues: the Hideout, which hosts the Immediate Sound series on Wednesdays; Elastic, which hosts an improvised-music series on Thursdays; and the Hungry Brain, which hosts the Transmission series on Sundays. Nearly everything on the schedule is worth checking out—including a Saturday set at the Hideout by bass clarinetist Jason Stein and his trio Locksmith Isidore, which also includes bassist Jason Roebke and New York drummer Mike Pride, and a rare solo performance by effusive postbop drummer Matt Wilson on Sunday at the Hungry Brain—and I’m particularly looking forward to the six sets I’ve written up in detail below.
Wednesday, November 2
Chicago Cultural Center
Hans-Peter Pfammatter Trio | 6:30 PM Preston Bradley Hall
Swiss pianist Hans-Peter Pfammatter plays with reedist Keefe Jackson and bassist Jason Roebke.
Gerard Lebik Quartet | 7:15 PM Claudia Cassidy Theater
Polish saxophonist Gerard Lebik plays with trumpeter Jaimie Branch, bassist Anton Hatwich, and drummer Marc Riordan.
Franz Hautzinger Group | 8 PM Preston Bradley Hall
Back in the late 90s, Austrian trumpeter Franz Hautzinger adapted a radical approach to improvisation: he began playing a quarter-tone horn and focused almost exclusively on the unpitched sounds of his inhaled and exhaled breaths moving through the instrument. Close miking gave them a rich harmonic presence, and Hautzinger’s stunning precision and mouthpiece control produced a veritable symphony of beats, whispers, and abstract shapes. Still, there was a studied quality to that work, and in recent years Hautzinger has begun using more conventional trumpet sounds. Yet on his 2007 solo album Gomberg II—Profile (Loewenhertz) he remains a sonic investigator, using electronics and a wide array of extended techniques to create pulsing, coloristic explorations. He delivers a more visceral sound, combining those past and present interests on Close Up (Monotype), a terrific free-improv session with reedist Bertran Gauget and analog-synth wizard Thomas Lehn. Tonight Hautzinger is joined by two locals, Dave Rempis on reeds and Nick Butcher on electronics.
Sophia Domancich Trio | 8:45 PM Claudia Cassidy Theater
Early in her jazz career, starting in the mid-80s, French pianist Sophia Domancich worked with figures from England’s progressive-rock scene, collaborating with the likes of Elton Dean, John Greaves, and Hugh Hopper of Henry Cow and Pip Pyle of Hatfield & the North. You can hear that legacy on last year’s Snakes and Ladders (Cristal), a song-oriented outing with vocals by Greaves and Robert Wyatt, with Domancich playing lots of Fender Rhodes. She’s also a superb improviser, whether stretching out with the rhythm section of Hamid Drake and William Parker on 2009’s Washed Away (Marge) or playing pithy, harmonically ambiguous compositions on Free 4 (Cristal), an outing that pairs her limber trio DAG with American saxophonist Dave Liebman. Based on what I’ve heard so far, she carefully adapts her approach according to context and collaborators, so I’m curious to hear what will happen here—she’ll perform with a Chicago rhythm section consisting of bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Avreaayl Ra.
Ab Baars Quartet | 9:30 PM Randolph Street Cafe
Brilliant Dutch reedist Ab Baars has been a frequent visitor to Chicago, both with his own groups and as a member of the mighty ICP Orchestra. Tonight he leads a top-notch local band (drummer Mike Reed, vibist Jason Adasiewicz, and trombonist Jeb Bishop) through a program of his typically lean, rigorous originals. On last year’s masterful solo effort, Time to Do My Lions (Wig), he sounds more focused and efficient than ever.
Thursday, November 3
Chicago Cultural Center
Jan Maksimowicz Quartet | 6:30 PM Claudia Cassidy Theater
Lithuanian saxophonist Jan Maksimowicz performs with fellow reedist David Boykin, bassist Joshua Abrams, and drummer Tim Daisy.
Ramon Lopez/Jim Baker Duo | 7:15 PM Preston Bradley Hall
Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez pairs up with Chicago pianist Jim Baker.
Francesco Bigoni Trio | 8 PM Claudia Cassidy Theater
Reedist Francesco Bigoni, born in Ferrera, Italy, in 1982, has been whirlwind busy for the past decade, playing in a dizzying variety of contexts with impressive sensitivity and historical perspective. Based on what I’ve heard, the common threads connecting all his work are an infectious exuberance, a deft adaptability, and a wealth of ideas. On the recent You Can Never Please Anybody (Aut), which he recorded as part of the reed trio Crisco 3, he and his partners alternately play sharp contrapuntal lines (making more music than you might expect from three horns) and engage precisely with textured abstractions. Oh, and they cover two songs by the Shaggs. Bigoni is now studying music in Copenhagen, where he formed the trio Hopscotch with guitarist Mark Solborg and drummer Kevin Brow, and their self-titled debut (released by ILK) veers from astringent atmospherics to violent collisions of high-energy blowing and hard-rock rhythm. Perhaps most germane to Bigoni’s Chicago debut—he’ll play here with two locals, bassist Jake Vinsel and drummer Frank Rosaly—is his improvising trio Headless Cat. On the terrific 2009 album Blind Tail (El Gallo Rojo) this buoyant, hard-driving group moors even its most outward-bound excursions with a deep grasp of jazz fundamentals.
Sten Sandell | 8:45 PM Preston Bradley Hall
Swedish pianist Sten Sandell plays solo.
Thomas Heberer’s Clarino | 9:30 PM Randolph Street Cafe
Trumpeter Thomas Heberer, best known to Chicagoans through his regular visits as a member of the ICP Orchestra, represents Germany tonight—though he lives in New York, as do the other members of his trio Clarino, Belgian reedist Joachim Badenhorst and French-German bassist Pascal Niggenkemper. On the recent Klippe (Clean Feed) they use Heberer’s “Cookbook” system of notation, in which established rules govern parameters like density, pulse, and duration in order to guide the players in the improvised creation of discrete ideas and phrases, which they memorize on the fly and reintroduce later in the piece, sometimes identically and sometimes altered. This allows the trio to play chamberlike pieces that flit spontaneously from coloristic abstraction to darting melodies, engaging in fluid, empathetic dialogue, but that nonetheless suggest graspable structures via the unpredictable return of established elements.
Friday, November 4
Nick Mazzarella Trio | 9 PM
Local alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella leads his working trio with bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Frank Rosaly.
John Butcher | 10 PM
Few saxophonists can match the rigor, curiosity, and technical muscle of England’s John Butcher. Early in his career the influence of Evan Parker sometimes weighed heavily on his sound—you can still hear traces of Parker’s hyperfocused meta-improvising on Scrutables, a 2000 session with guitarist Derek Bailey and percussionist Gino Robair that was recently released by Weight of Wax—but Butcher has since sharpened his own voice, using a sublimely complex intelligence to guide his engagement with pure sound. On 2008’s Resonant Spaces (Confront) he practically duets with the unusual venues where he chose to record, manipulating his playing—gnarled lines, high-pitched twitters, ascetic long tones—so that the sound of his horn dances around, entwines with, and loops back through the natural echoes produced by a cave, a massive oil tank, a mausoleum, and more. Tonight Butcher performs solo in the comparatively dry acoustic environment of Elastic.
Tim Berne Trio | 11 PM
For more than three decades saxophonist Tim Berne has stuck to his soulful, idiosyncratic path. His tightly coiled lines snake inexorably forward, as though constantly seeking; his improvisations evolve from elaborate, slaloming composed themes that seem to have no beginning or end—they just stay in constant motion. He plays with such relentless ferocity that until I heard The Veil (Cryptogramophone)—a new record improvised live at the Stone in New York with guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Jim Black—I wasn’t sure there were any musicians alive who could come on strong enough to keep Berne from sounding like the hands-down leader of the group. Though he’s worked with distinctive guitarists like Bill Frisell, Marc Ducret, and David Torn as well as monster drummers like Black, Tom Rainey, and Joey Baron—all of whom have helped drive his dense compositions and thorny improvisations—The Veil is the first time he’s been embedded in a harrowing, brutal web of sound that’s just as twisty, dark, and surprising as his own contributions. And by meeting his match, he’s upped his own ante. For his first local headlining gig in six years, Berne is joined by bassist and former Chicagoan Devin Hoff and New York drummer Ches Smith—frequent collaborators who play as a duo in Good for Cows.
Saturday, November 5
Hideout $15, 21+
Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore | 9 PM
Chicago bass clarinetist Jason Stein leads his trio with bassist Jason Roebke and New York drummer Mike Pride.
Parker/Reed Duo | 10 PM
Guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer Mike Reed play duets.
Odean Pope Trio with Marshall Allen | 11 PM
Saxophonist Odean Pope, who just turned 73, is a fixture on the Philadelphia jazz scene. He played jazz-funk in the 70s with Catalyst and in 1979 joined the Max Roach Quartet, where he’d stay for more than two decades. On his latest album, Universal Sounds (Porter), where he sounds equally at ease with bristling postbop and wild free jazz, Pope reaffirms his Philly roots. He never worked regularly with Sun Ra (himself a Philadelphian from the late 60s till his death), but his front-line partner here is fellow reedist and Arkestra veteran Marshall Allen, who’s led the group
since Ra died since shortly after Ra died in 1993—and the band uses three kit drummers, something commonly done in the Arkestra too. For this rare local performance Pope is joined by an all-Philadelphia band: Allen, bassist Lee Smith, and drummer Craig McIver, all of whom play on the record.
Sunday, November 6
Hungry Brain $15 suggested donation, 21+
Matt Wilson | 9 PM
New York drummer and bandleader Matt Wilson plays a rare solo set.
Mary Halvorson Quintet | 10 PM
Distinctive and original New York guitarist Mary Halvorson visits Chicago pretty often—as part of Mike Reed’s Myth/Science Assembly at this year’s Jazz Festival, in her long-running duo with violist Jessica Pavone, in an improvising trio with trumpeter Peter Evans and drummer Weasel Walter—but this is the first time she’s played here as a bandleader. Her agile, talent-packed quintet—explosive saxophonist and Chicago native Jon Irabagon, steely trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson (last heard here with Steve Coleman), drummer Ches Smith, and bassist John Hebert, replaced for this gig by Trevor Dunn—is one of the best working bands in jazz today. On last year’s fantastic Saturn Sings (Firehouse 12), Halvorson’s strong compositions betray her growing interest in postbop, but you can still hear her love for everything from Deerhoof to spacey folk in their unexpected twists and turns—and especially in her dizzying solos.