Fri 9/19 and Sat 9/20, 9 PM, the Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, greenmilljazz.com, $12.
In the last few years Chicago bassist and composer Matt Ulery has emerged as one of the most sophisticated, prolific, and versatile figures in town, leading the postbop quintet Loom and composing elegant chamber music for a circle of musicians including members of Eighth Blackbird and the singer Grazyna Auguscik—both of whom appear on his new album In the Ivory (the third of his LPs to be released on Greenleaf Music, the label owned by trumpeter Dave Douglas). In advance of album-release concerts September 19 and 20 at the Green Mill, I asked him how he navigates between the jazz and composed-music worlds. —Peter Margasak
You’ve switched back and forth between more jazz-focused work with Loom and largely notated compositional efforts, although they seem to increasingly bleed into one another. How do you differentiate these endeavors? Would you like to erase any lines between them?
I’ve found creative momentum in pursuing multiple projects simultaneously as a bandleader as well as a collaborator or sideman. Most often when I get to make music, it’s playing bass (upright or electric) in an accompanying role across many diverse genres. Bass and its role in a rhythm section can be very subtly powerful in helping to shape the dynamic and style of a sound, especially when the music is more “open.” Having the opportunity to play this role in a countless number of bands and styles has helped give me insight into the compositional process of carefully crafting arrangements where the energy, provided by the musicians, has potential to flow between musical moments and events. When you know who you are writing for and can appreciate the history and musical trust between you, you can know more specifically how much or how little information you can or need to provide them in the written music.
Do you prefer to be viewed as a composer or a bassist? Or does it matter?
I see composing and bass playing as different tools or methods of having a musical experience. Being a bassist means to be an improviser. Composition is improvisation with more of an editing process. I guess it depends on how one prefers to talk about it. It’s all the same to me.
Do you feel that living and working in Chicago has helped or hindered getting established as a composer and bandleader?
It can be a daunting task to develop and present your own art/music/band independently anywhere. It’s hard to say if being based in Chicago helps or hinders becoming a more established composer or bandleader, but I’ve personally found that the practice of finding the joy in all musical situations with (hopefully) good people and good musicians is the right path to longevity. Being honest about the music you decide you want to make as a leader seems like the best policy. Chicago may not be as much on the “world stage” in some people’s eyes, but many of the musicians who reside here are my favorites.
Sat 9/20-Mon 9/22, various showtimes: Constellation (3111 N. Western, constellation-chicago.com) and Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago (5850 S. Woodlawn, 773-702-8069, rockefeller.uchicago.edu). Various prices, festival pass $15.
Wandelweiser is an international collective of composers who find beauty in music that has been pared down to silence and simple gestures. They share with minimalists an appreciation for reduction, but rather than get hung up on repetition, their compositions express an unfixed, open quality; after all, wandel is the German word for change. Wandelweiser scores might consist of suggestive text rather than conventional notation, and the resulting music freely incorporates environmental sounds, unorthodox playing techniques, and passages of unabashed tonal beauty.
Organized by Nomi Epstein, who leads the experimental-music ensemble a.pe.ri.od.ic, and Reader critic Peter Margasak, who presents the Frequency Series at Constellation, the Chicago Wandelweiser Festival is the city’s first event devoted to the collective’s music. It includes three concerts and a panel discussion.
The festival’s first night doubles as a record-release celebration for a.pe.ri.od.ic‘s first album, More or Less (New Focus Recordings), which includes three pieces by Swiss composer/clarinetist Jürg Frey. Each opens with a similar set of long tones, played with such different attacks that they establish very different moods. Despite deliberate pacing and a near absence of melody, the addition and subtraction of woodwinds, strings, and voices keep each performance in constant flux. The group will also play a new piece Frey has written for the occasion. And on two subsequent nights, pianist R. Andrew Lee and composer/organist Eva-Marie Houben will play concerts that use the starkness of solo keyboard settings to reveal Wandelweiser music’s flexible and elegant construction. —Bill Meyer
8 PM, Land and Sea Dept., 3124 W. Carroll, landandseadept.com, $10.
When Andre Foisy isn’t making devastating ambient-metal with Locrian and heady drone tracks with Kwaidan, he teaches yoga. Earlier this year he began hosting monthly Metal & Candlelit Yoga nights at Turbodog (800 W. Huron, 773-278-0877), which feature musicians playing drone sets at the end of the evening—local synth whiz Alex Barnett holds court on Sat 9/20 at 7:30 PM. We asked Foisy to recommend a fall performance that would make a great fit for his series, and he chose the recently reunited black-metal four-piece Liturgy. “I generally pick music for my yoga classes that easily allows the class to focus internally,” he says. “By focusing internally through yoga one can become aware of distractions.”—Leor Galil
10/7, 9 PM: Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, metrochicago.com, 18+, sold out
It takes guts to name your debut album Goddess, but Los Angeles-based songwriter Banks worked up the confidence after her syrupy electro-pop tracks spread like wildfire through SoundCloud. She caught her break in early 2013 when taste-making BBC Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe played her first single, “Before I Ever Met You.” Collaborations with acclaimed producers soon followed. Goddess, released on Harvest Records September 9, features production credits from Sohn, Shlohmo, and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. The track list includes select cuts from her critically acclaimed 2013 EPs, Fall Over and London. Banks’s layered vocals cascade throughout the record, her sleepy tone buoyed by the slippery, playful electronics that accompany her. But rather than rely on texture for effect, she bends it into forceful, ambitious songs. On the album’s opener, “Brain,” Banks snaps from a murmur to a belt, switching from down-tempo trip-hop creeper to full-blown pop ballad without missing a beat. She never lets the song’s ghostly synthetic percussion cloud her songwriting, centering her voice as she carries the melody to one of the year’s most powerful singles. This will be her first time performing in Chicago since opening for the Weeknd last fall. —Sasha Geffen
Tue 10/21, 8 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield, victheatre.com, sold out. 18+
Setting the groundwork for the dramatic and evil aesthetic of the impending Norwegian black-metal movement, Copenhagen’s Mercyful Fate came together in 1981 as a prog-rock-leaning heavy-metal act fronted by Kim Bendix Petersen, better known as King Diamond: a corpse-painted, card-carrying Satanist wielding a hand-held microphone stand fashioned out of genuine human bones. Petersen sang in a high-pitched, theatrical falsetto that could pass for hilarious—if only it didn’t so effortlessly dip into a terrifyingly inhuman growl. Mercyful Fate was an over-the-top outfit, and King didn’t really come into his own until he started releasing solo albums in 1985: a near-perfect series of concept records—including Abigail, Fatal Portrait, and Them—that detailed vengeful, murderous spirits and evil forces that travel to hell and back. At the forefront were not only Petersen’s angelic, multitracked vocals and dramatic keyboards, but also his ability to engage the listener with stories by shaping his voice into different characters, kind of like Peter Gabriel during his Genesis stint. Aside from reuniting here and there with Mercyful Fate over the decades, Petersen has never stopped releasing solo material. His most recent was 2007’s Give Me Your Soul . . . Please. A brand-new release is slated for next year. —Luca Cimarusti
Red Scare Anniversary Weekend
Sat 10/25, 3:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, metrochicago.com. The Falcon headline; the Lillingtons, the Methadones, the Brokedowns, Teenage Bottlerocket, Masked Intruder, Reaganomics, Direct Hit!, Elway, and TBD open. $25. 18+
For a decade, Red Scare Industries has been home to a very specific kind of gruff, adult-size pop-punk—if you’re rubbed the wrong way by the title of the label’s new compilation, Red Scare Industries: 10 Years of Your Dumb Bullshit, there’s a good chance you haven’t acquired a taste for that sound. Red Scare’s done a good job of owning its niche with help from bands such as anthemic Wyoming outfit the Lillingtons and brooding local group the Methadones, and those two are helping the label celebrate its ten-year anniversary in its adopted hometown—founder Tobias Jeg uprooted the label from San Francisco back in 2007 partially because co-honcho Brendan Kelly (of Lawrence Arms) lives here. Kelly is helping anchor the weekend-long bash, performing a solo acoustic set at Gman Tavern (aka the Gingerman) and headlining at the Metro as part of the original lineup of local supergroup the Falcon. Red Scare is still finalizing its plans for the minifest, which includes acoustic sets at Gman on Fri 10/24 and Sun 10/26. —Leor Galil
European Jazz Meets Chicago
Wed 11/5, 6 PM, and Thu 11/6, 6:30 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630, chicagoculturalcenter.org. F
Usually this two-day event, in which some of Europe’s leading jazz and improvised-music practitioners are showcased with local talent, is part of the bigger Umbrella Music Festival. But after eight years of inventive programming, that event has been put on ice. Still, there’s plenty to recommend at this free extravaganza hosted by the Chicago Cultural Center. Highlights of the first evening include a solo performance by Swedish tuba player Per Åke Holmlander (a frequent performer as a member of Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet and Ken Vandermark’s Territory Band) and the local debut of the superb German saxophonist Silke Eberhard, an agile reedist who’s collaborated with some of free jazz’s most vaunted veterans, including Dave Burrell, Aki Takase, and Ulrich Gumpert. Thursday’s program features the return of the excellent improvising quartet Dans les Arbres (featuring Norwegian pianist Christian Wallumrød, percussionist Ingar Zach, and guitarist Ivar Grydeland as well as French clarinetist Xavier Charles). Also performing during the festival are Polish clarinetist Wacław Zimpel, Austrian saxophonist Max Nagl, Lithuanian saxophonist Juozas Kuraitis, and the latest version of the French-American collaboration called the Bridge. —Peter Margasak
Sun 11/23, 8 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln,
773-525-2501, lincolnhallchicago.com, $18, $15 in advance. 18+
This show has been canceled.
Few got the chance to see the first openly gay country band during its initial run in the 70s, but Lavender Country‘s 1973 self-titled debut still resonates. Seattle nonprofit Gay Community Social Services pressed 1,000 copies just a handful of years after the Stonewall riots, and Lavender Country remains a remarkable document of a disenfranchised community fighting to persevere. The album’s idiosyncratic mix of gay perspective and rustic, mid-1900s country gives it a strange magnetism that tickles pop historians and record collectors, but the moving, heartfelt songs are far from curios. Lavender Country’s tender hand at approaching gay love and loss is warm and compassionate while remaining subversive—one listen to “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears” proves it. North Carolina archival label Paradise of Bachelors reissued Lavender Country in March, and front man Patrick Haggerty has put together a new version of the group. The new lineup includes harmonica player and Chicagoland native Bobby Taylor, who performs standards with Haggerty under the name Memory Lane for senior citizens in the Puget Sound area. —Leor Galil