Urs Leimgruber Credit: Peter Gannushkin

Soprano and tenor saxophonist Urs Leimgruber has covered a lot of ground since he first recorded in 1974. On his earliest recordings, with Swiss jazz-rock group Om (which predates by decades the heavy American band of the same name), he played muscular solos over surging rhythms. Since the 90s he’s used several groups—including Quartet Noir and MMM, which both feature French bassist Joëlle Léandre, and a long-running trio with French pianist Jacques Demierre and American bassist Barre Phillips—to combine free improvisation with classical gestures, particularly Léandre’s operatic singing. And in his work with German electronicist Thomas Lehn, which began in 2006, he matches tones so empathetically that it can be hard to tell where the reeds end and the synthesizer begins. Leimgruber is also committed to unaccompanied performance; on his seventh solo album, last year’s Broken Silence (Creative Works), he uses splintered timbres and prickly pitches to illuminate the vast emptiness around his barely-there sounds. In any situation, Leimgruber brings an open-eared readiness to respond to whatever acoustic qualities and personalities he encounters, and during his current visit to Chicago (his first since 2015), he’ll have several opportunities to test his versatility. On Monday, May 20, he’ll perform solo and with two locals, bassist Jason Roebke and piano and synthesizer player Jim Baker, at Experimental Sound Studio. On Thursday, May 23, he and Baker will duet at Elastic, opening for a group led by Chicago saxophonist Gerrit Hatcher. On Friday, May 24, Leimgruber will perform at Constellation with local dancer Ayaka Kato under the name In Motion Duo, on a bill with two other dancer-musician pairings. And on Saturday, May 25, Leimgruber will play at Elastic with the great laptop improviser Ikue Mori and local electronic musician Paul Giallorenzo as part of the Transference Festival—an event that seeks to duplicate onstage the daring mix of aesthetics that Northwestern’s student radio station, WNUR, provides on the air.   v

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