ROBBIE HUNSINGER QUARTET
Call it the miseducation of Robbie Hunsinger: a classically trained double-reed player, proficient on the oboe and several of its cousins, takes a left turn from Music of the Baroque and sinks waist deep in Chicago’s fertile avant-garde–performing with Ken Vandermark, Georg GrŠwe, and legendary visitors like Evan Parker and Joseph Jarman. Hunsinger’s training, combined with her love for free improv, places her comfortably in the neutral territory between jazz and classical, most notably with the double-reed trio Corvus, which can sound like a flock of its namesake. And the outfit that performs at this gig, her first real “jazz” band, uses a typical horn-plus-rhythm lineup but has an atypical repertoire and a terrifically compact sound. A piece called “Chinois” flickers in a heartbeat from martial drumming and Chinese-oboe fanfares to tempoless moans; on “Ballad” Hunsinger’s oboe d’amour, slightly larger and mellower than the standard-issue hautbois, sails lyrically over keyboardist Jim Baker’s spiky, motile counterlines; and on “Metamorphosis” the oboe wails harshly, all but dwarfed by a monolithic backdrop. An overriding devotion to structure–whether it’s built into the thematic material or arises spontaneously out of the improvised passages–defines the band, even more than Hunsinger’s protean instrumental skills. Bassist George Langford’s gift for subtle, powerful understatement dovetails neatly with percussionist Gerald Dowd’s hyperactive intensity, which brilliantly colors the free sections. And I can’t overstate the role of the quirky, impassioned Baker in this process: whether on piano or his old-fashioned patch-field synthesizer, which creates raw, discrete analog tweets and pulses instead of the digitized textures of more modern sampling keyboards, he serves as the music’s fulcrum. Tuesday, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Nathan Mandell.