JOE LOVANO & US FIVE While on the road in Europe this fall with his nonet, saxophonist Joe Lovano took two spills over the course of a few days and broke both his arms. He had to cancel the rest of that tour as well as some stateside dates with Us Five—the excellent band from his most recent album, last spring’s Folk Art (Blue Note)—but now that he’s healed up those U.S. shows are back on. Arguably the most adventurous reedist in contemporary mainstream jazz, Lovano has already made recordings documenting many of his diverse interests—big-band music, third-stream experiments, free jazz, bebop—and on Folk Art he continues to give free rein to his restless aesthetic curiosity. The songs often swing fiercely, but they’re deliberately loose, their open-ended structures focusing players and audience alike on the group’s high-level ensemble interaction. Lovano sounds moody and introspective, even during the most intense passages, and the band’s two drummers—Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela—use their overlapping rhythms to create elastic tempos and diverse textures, not to crank up the momentum. Pianist James Weidman, who released the terrific Three Worlds (Inner Circle Music) last year, provides an accommodating backdrop for Lovano’s rangy solos with his plush post-McCoy Tyner harmonies and heavy use of the sustain pedal. Everyone in the quintet (with the exception of Brown) is also a bandleader, and superstar bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding actually sounds better here than she does on her own somewhat slick and vocal-driven records—in this strictly instrumental setting her chops and empathy are front and center. Us Five are fresh from a week at New York’s Village Vanguard, and I bet they’ve already found nuances in the music above and beyond what they explored on Folk Art. See also Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $25. —Peter Margasak
YOUNG JEEZY I’m generally a fan of the major aesthetic renovations hip-hop has undergone over the past few years—unlike the many salty dudes who greet such developments with horror, I’m fully into Kanye dabbling in Krautrock, Jay-Z listening to chillwave, and half-Jewish former child actors becoming major rap stars. Still, I feel it’s important to have somebody like Young Jeezy around to keep the music grounded. Every year since Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 in 2005, he’s dropped one of the top ten rap records of the year—whether aboveground releases like 2008’s The Recession or mix tapes like last year’s Trappin’ Aint Dead. With each one he provides the slightest of updates to Dirty South synth beats plus a bunch of brilliant rhymes about coke dealing and conspicuous consumption, delivered in his inimitable spine-chilling rasp. There’s not much that crusty conservative hater types and I can find to agree about, but we’re all pretty sure he should continue doing so for at least the next decade. Jay-Z headlines; Young Jeezy and Trey Songz open. 7 PM, United Center, 1901 W. Madison, 312-455-4500 or 312-559-1212, $39.50-$129.50. —Miles Raymer
LOS LOBOS Even if I didn’t know that Los Lobos had signed to Shout Factory last year, signaling the imminent end of their days with the Disney-owned Hollywood label, their recent Goes Disney (Disney Sound) would smell a little like a throwaway release to fulfill a contract. (On the other hand, back in 1988 the veteran LA band contributed a tune to Stay Awake, a Hal Willner-produced collection of Disney songs, so maybe they’ve been itching to do more ever since.) Los Lobos work hard to transform a slew of songs from Disney movies (and a few from the theme parks) with their trademark sound, and though I personally find it hard to stomach any version of “Heigh Ho,” they at least manage to make theirs surprising, singing it in Spanish and giving it a brisk, clattering Tex-Mex beat. Their renditions of “Not in Nottingham” and “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”—an unlikely candidate for a tolerable rock remake if there ever was one—are so lovely I wouldn’t mind if they made it into the band’s regular sets. Backyard Tire Fire opens; see also Saturday. Los Lobos members David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas also play with the Experience Hendrix tour at the Chicago Theatre on Thursday, March 18, alongside Joe Satriani, Ernie Isley, Robert Randolph, and many others. 8 PM, the Hemmens, 45 Symphony Way, Elgin, 847-931-5900, $25-$35. —Peter Margasak
LARRY MCCRAY It’s hardly revolutionary for contemporary blues artists to graft 12-bar changes and backstreet-noir lyrics onto a framework borrowed from mainstream rock—rock bands have been working the same territory for decades, albeit from a different starting point—but few are as deft and imaginative about it as Larry McCray. From a big-picture point of view, McCray isn’t particularly original: in his guitar work he takes after B.B. King and his string-bending disciples, his band tends to crunch and slog as much as it shuffles or swings, and his meaty, straightforward songs collide classic electric blues with Joe Walsh-style swagger, a touch of Clapton, and some of the poppy soulfulness of the Doobie Brothers. But he redeems himself in the details. He contructs his fiery but mercifully understated solos with unerring precision and impeccable note choices, usually limiting himself to brief, rigorous statements slotted between sung verses—and even when he stretches out, he seldom if ever repeats himself. On his latest, a self-titled 2007 outing on his own Magnolia label, McCray showcases not just his guitar playing but his storytelling: whether delivering a kiss-off to a failed relationship (“No More”), celebrating the joys of a good one (“You Are the One”), or offering last-ditch advice on how to escape from evil thoughts and unraveling social bonds (the Springsteen-esque “Run”), he animates his narratives with vivid imagery and unimpeachable emotional commitment. The Cash Box Kings open; Sam Lay plays a free acoustic set from 5:30-8 PM. 9 PM, Buddy Guy’s Legends, 754 S. Wabash, 312-427-0333, $15. —David Whiteis
SCOUT NIBLETT Born and raised in England but based in Portland, Oregon, Emma “Scout” Niblett has stuck to her guns for a decade now, honing a very specific sound, clearly inspired by Kurt Cobain’s guitar playing and PJ Harvey’s raw, intimate early-90s recordings. Between those two guiding stars, though, she finds plenty of room for her own personality. On her latest album, The Calcination of Scout Niblett (Drag City), there are walloping drums on some tracks (played not by Niblett herself for a change but by a fellow who likes to be called “Christmas”), but mostly it’s just her electric guitar, which she uses not just to play riffs or strum through chord changes but to create a kind of symphonic noise, shaping surging-and-ebbing feedback and overtones. Her voice is what really helps her transcend her influences: sometimes keening and vulnerable, sometimes almost playful, sometimes charged with a transfixing ritualistic energy, it taps into powerful, primal emotions. Picastro opens; Niblett is touring with a single bandmate named Dan Wilson (no relation to the guy from Semisonic). 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12. —Peter Margasak
THE EXThe Ex suffered a grave blow last year: vocalist G.W. Sok, who’d helped found the band in 1979, departed. But these Amsterdam art-punks, who’ve toured southern Ethiopia by driving into towns and simply setting up to play, know a few things about rolling with the punches—and by the sound of their new single, “Maybe I Was the Pilot” b/w “Our Leaky Homes” (The Ex Records), they’ve done it again. Not only does new singer Arnold de Boer, who also records with his project Zea, carry on the Ex’s tradition of unsparing political commentary, but his guitar playing meshes like gear teeth with the punk-folk-African riffs of guitarists Andy Moor and Terrie Hessels (the sole remaining original member) and the clackity-smack drumming of Katherina Bornefeld. When the Ex last came to town two years ago, they played vintage Ethiopian soul with saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria; this time they’ll do their own tunes. Shellac opens. 10 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, sold out (limited tickets available at the door at 9 PM), 18+. —Bill Meyer
NORAH JONESNorah Jones‘s latest, The Fall (Blue Note), is a breakup album, and it mirrors the shake-up in her private life with a change in her sound. Gone is the band from her first three albums (which included her ex-boyfriend, bassist Lee Alexander), replaced by a rotating cast of A-list studio musicians; the politely jazzy, piano-driven singer-songwriter pop of those albums is gone too, replaced by something a bit closer to rock. Though Jones sings her gentle, elegant melodies with the same smooth phrasing, electric guitars have largely replaced the piano, and the drumming is declamatory rather than merely suggestive. In her lyrics she mostly alternates between taking mild jabs at the ex and trying to get comfortable with her heartbreak: on “Tell Yer Mama” she has some choice words to pass along to his parents (“So tell your father / That I said, ‘So long’ / And thanks for raising you / So damn wrong”), while on the charming throwaway “Man of the Hour” she decides to rely on her dog for companionship because dating means she’d have to “choose between a vegan and a pothead.” Jones will probably never approach the huge sales of her debut again, but she’s still a model MOR pop star, accessible and ingratiating but never dumbed-down or glib—though she never comes on all that strong, there’s craft and depth in everything she does. Elvis Perkins opens. 8 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6300, sold out. —Peter Margasak
LOS LOBOS See Friday. Backyard Tire Fire and the Mojo Daddies open. 7 PM, Center for Performing Arts, Governors State University, 1 University Pkwy., University Park, 708-235-2222, $25-$56.
OMAR PENE Though Youssou N’Dour is unquestionably the greatest Senegalese singer on the world stage, for decades he had serious competition on the home front from Omar Pene. Pene emerged in the mid-70s as front man of Super Diamono, a group that also produced important figures like singer Ismael Lo and keyboardist Adama Faye. The band addressed contemporary issues like corruption, unemployment, and the evils of polygamy with its thoroughly modern mbalax, which used bits of funk, jazz, and reggae to color the style’s signature elements—soaring, heartrending Islamic-sounding vocals and galloping massed hand drums. To this day Pene is one of Senegal’s best-loved vocalists, though lately he’s focused on a solo career, often backed by former members of Super Diamono. Last year’s fine Ndam (Aztec) cradles his remarkable voice—muscular and sweet, declamatory and agile—with largely acoustic instrumental arrangements dialed down to a restrained simmer, making the occasional flare-ups hit that much harder. Acoustic guitar, accordion, horns, and electric bass weave in and out of layers of percussion, and sometimes the distinctive accent patterns of mbalax, played on sabar drums or talking drums, pop out of the percolating mix. Pene stays serenely cool on ballads, and on more kinetic tunes he brings an enthralling sophistication to his phrasing and rhythms, trying out different permutations with every repetition; no matter what he sings, he demonstrates the mastery of tone and vibe that’s kept him a star in his homeland for almost 40 years. 9:30 PM, Martyrs’, 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499, $25. —Peter Margasak
WHITE MYSTERY, OTHER MINDS There are a number of good reasons why starting a two-piece rock ‘n’ roll band is a really cool idea—the raw simplicity of the sound, the ease of loading the van, et cetera—and one extremely good reason it isn’t. There simply aren’t many performers who are so compelling onstage that just two of them can hold an entire audience’s attention for half an hour or more. Alex and Francis White don’t have to worry about that, though. As the garage duo WHITE MYSTERY they’ve spent the past year crushing shows with a surprisingly massive sound and a redheaded blur of frenetic energy. Their new self-titled, self-released debut album does a respectable job replicating that electricity, with big-ass riffs, drums of speaker-rattling thickness, and Alex’s steel-belted vocals—imagine if the Patti Smith Group had dipped a lot deeper into Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets stash.
Locals OTHER MINDS are significantly more chilled-out, but their vibe is just as fun. Their five members, who have an impressive list of credentials spanning a dozen or so varyingly incestuous Chicago bands (drummer Brian Costello also writes for the Reader), take the sounds of garage rock’s first wave—twangy, Brian Jones-y guitars, off-kilter vocal melodies—and filter them through enough reverb to give their songs a diaphanous, dreamlike quality, like a transistor radio playing oldies from across an empty warehouse.
White Mystery headlines; Charlie Slick and Other Minds open. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Miles Raymer
SEIJIRO MURAYAMA Japanese percussionist Seijiro Murayama first made his name in the mid-80s as the explosive engine driving the brutally ugly noise rock of Absolut Null Punkt with guitarist KK Null. (The group reunited in 2004 and has since made several more albums.) He also played on the first proper release by Keiji Haino’s blistering, mystical Fushitsusha, a live double LP from 1989. So when I heard some of his recent work, I was floored. Since moving to Paris in 1999, Murayama has been immersed in improvised music, much of it quiet, serene, and nonpercussive. On the 2007 release Hatali Atsalei (Intransitive)—a wonderfully strange collaboration with French musique concrete artist Lionel Marchetti, according to its liner notes based on “Greek ritual music”—he sings or makes weird vocal sounds more often than he does anything with a drum. On last year’s Space and Place (Ftarri), a duo with Tokyo multi-instrumentalist Soundworm (credited here with sound engineering and “suggestions”), he creates unidentifiable friction sounds as well as gusting drones dominated by electronically enhanced cymbals and other metal objects, both bowed and struck. His most recent album with American sound artist Michael Northam, the 2009 disc Moriendo Renascor (Xing-Wu), is so heavily processed and edited it’s hard to tell what Murayama played or how—Northam began with what he calls “composted recordings” made in Lisbon, Portugal, and Astoria, Oregon, fusing Murayama’s muted metallic clatter with digitally transmogrified environmental sounds to create hypnotizing atmospheres that twinkle, glow, hover, and throb. Tonight Murayama performs with bassist Jason Roebke and electronicist Brian Labycz. See also Tuesday. 8 PM, Bond Chapel, 1050 E. 59th, 773-702-8670. —Peter Margasak
SEIJIRO MURAYAMA See Monday. Tonight Murayama plays solo and in a trio with electronicist Brian Labycz and dancer Ayako Kato; headlining is a quartet of bass clarinetist Jason Stein, saxophonist Michael Forbes, modular synth player Dan Fandino, and electronicist Aaron Zarzutzki. 8 PM, Enemy, 1550 N. Milwaukee, third floor, enemysound.com, $7 suggested donation.
JUSTIN BIEBER “An old soul is the last thing you would expect to find inside Justin Bieber,” reads the first line of his bio. Actually, a soul of any vintage would be a bit of a shock: Bieber, who just turned 16, is one of teen pop’s least imaginative creations ever. He sounds like puberty is still a few seasons off, and with his soft, unmasculine face, framed by a shiny bowl cut, he’s more or less a Shaun Cassidy for the ’10s. My friend Morgan was pretty disappointed when I told her his chart topper “One Time” was sung by a boy—she was really excited when she assumed it was a 13-year-old girl’s paean to eternal queer love. If only. Also Thu 3/25. 7 PM, Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River, Rosemont, 847-671-5100, sold out. —Jessica Hopper
GOLDEN TRIANGLE You could call Golden Triangle a garage band, but garage connotes a certain boozy slackness, and this New York City sextet is taut and tense and relentless. On their debut, Double Jointer (Hardly Art), it feels like they’re bearing down, careering forward, and playing as fast as they can to keep it all hinged together. Front women Vashti Windish and Carly Rabalais pair their unfancy voices in aggressively ghostly unison, their singing floating above the manic chime und drang. They sound a bit like twee postpunk bands of cassette-core yore—the Shop Assistants, the Au Pairs—filtered through other bands known for their drugged guitar blitz, like Pussy Galore and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Double Jointer sounds hungover and paranoid, ready to fight, not at all sentimental—a welcome amalgamation. Johnny & the Limelites, Screens, and Empty Heads open. 9 PM, Beat Kitchen, 773-281-4444 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Jessica Hopper
GUNSLINGERS This French power trio—bassist Matthieu Canaguier, drummer Antoine Hadhoannou, and guitarist/front man Gregory Raimo, a snarling, declaiming shaman who also maintains a solo sideline as GR—don’t come out of any particular “scene,” but they bring the energy of many to their roiling, high-volume mania. The effect Gunslingers seem to be going for is Keiji Haino fronting the Seeds, with a biting, trashy wit lacing their erupting monstrosities—their songs aren’t so much Nuggets as boulders. This is their second stateside tour; they made their Chicago debut last year on the strength of their first album, 2008’s No More Invention (on German psych label World in Sound). This time, on a SXSW jaunt, they’re plugging their second, Manifesto Zero, an even deeper and louder exploration of their terrifying territory. The Plastic Crimewave Vision Celestial Guitarkestra VI and Vee Dee open. See also Tuesday. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8, $5 in advance. —Monica Kendrick