John McCowen Credit: courtesy the artist

My faith in Chicago’s improvised and experimental music scene is regularly renewed by a number of factors, but the most important is its reliable infusion of new blood. Bassist Eli Namay and drummer Phillip Sudderberg have been playing out for a couple of years, but I’m only now beginning to catch up with them. This evening they celebrate the release of a new self-titled album by their Vibrating Skull Trio, which also includes clarinetist John McCowen (Wei Zhongle). The music is fully improvised, hurtling from free jazz to noise with howling streaks of dissonance, curdling electronic effects, and production that pushes it toward a metallic harshness. McCowen’s overblown clarinet hits brittle upper-register extremes, and Sudderberg’s exuberant clatter often sounds like he’s knocking over shelves of pots and utensils and rolling around in them like a madman. Namay alternates between electric bass and prepared guitar, and all three players further enhance their standard instruments with an array of noise-generating electronics. Despite the chaos, what distinguishes Vibrating Skull Trio from being just another noise group is their intense and refined interplay—each musician is an adept listener, responding to spontaneous gestures or phrases with quicksilver alertness.   v