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More Songs About Politics and Sex

Halfway through his show at the Riviera, Billy Bragg, as is his wont, digressed into a short monologue before his new song “Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards.” This song is the standout track on Bragg’s new record, Workers Playtime; it’s a luminous, transcontinental fantasy that begins in Cuba, rockets out to a nuclear test […]

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Chicago Sinfonietta

CHICAGO SINFONIETTA at Orchestra Hall September 27, 1988 The Chicago Sinfonietta, which prides itself on being an affirmative action organization, is the latest in a long line of midsize orchestras that have sought recognition despite the lengthy shadow of the Chicago Symphony. It faces formidable odds. As far as I can recollect, no other professional […]

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Serkin and Solti

CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA at Orchestra Hall September 28 and October 1 The word “legendary” is thrown around so often in the arts that one hesitates to use it even when it seems deserved. Yet two of the figures who opened the Chicago Symphony’s 98th season in a special nonsubscription fund-raiser on September 28 are legendary. […]

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New Works by Local Composers

CHICAGO PRO MUSICA Ramsey Auditorium, Batavia It is always a rare and welcome occasion when works by area composers are heard locally. But it is a rarer and even more welcome occasion when such works are given a first-rate performance–as when the Chicago Pro Musica, the Grammy Award-winning chamber ensemble made up of virtuoso musicians […]

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Billy Branch’s blues: a foot in the past, an eye on the future

It’s getting to be more difficult for blues musicians to carry on a legacy and remain contemporary. Master-apprentice relationships and clear lines of musical descent connected earlier southern traditions with the blues of the mid-50s Chicago heyday, and reflected a time when musical changes occurred slowly, over years and generations. An artist like Muddy Waters, […]

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The Bach Way

THE CITY MUSICK at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall September 18 One of the main problems that has plagued the City Music, Chicago’s 18th-century period-instrument orchestra, has been finding a hall where the subtleties of the group can be clearly heard. But solving that problem, at least for the new Evanston series at the Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, […]

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James Cotton–Recorded Live at Antone’s Night Club

JAMES COTTON RECORDED LIVE AT ANTONE’S NIGHT CLUB Antone’s Records and Tapes ANT0007 Harmonica player James Cotton has a reputation as an exhilarating live performer whose high-energy, boogie-laden blues has never been accurately captured on record. During the mid-70s, he carried what was arguably the tightest working blues band of its day–featuring Matt “Guitar” Murphy […]

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The world’s most advanced rock star

Who could have predicted that black stars would so dominate the 80s pop firmament? Any accounting of the decade’s most important acts would have to include at least three black acts in the top, oh, four or so, by my reckoning–Prince edging out Bruce for number one, the two of them followed closely by Run-D.M.C. […]

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Lower Standards

GRANT PARK SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA at Petrillo Music Shell August 24 and 28 At times the unbearably hot weather this summer made it seem that outdoor summer music might become a thing of the past. But a merciful cool spell arrived just in time for the Grant Park Symphony’s last week of concerts. Conducted, as they […]

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Strong Leadership

ISRAEL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA at Ravinia Festival August 20 and 21 Seldom have concerts at Ravinia or at Grant Park been as poorly attended as they have been in recent weeks; it has simply been too hot for people to sit and listen comfortably to a concert. Last weekend’s cooling spell brought not only heat relief, […]

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Young the restless

Years ago, I sat in a small club in San Francisco and watched Gary U.S. Bonds mark 20 years in show business with yet another night in a half-filled room. The crowd was desultory–too many had come on the off chance that a big Bonds fan named Bruce Springsteen might show up–but Bonds was a […]