EXPERIMENTAL | Bill Meyer
UPDATE: Ben Vida has had to cancel his Chicago trip. The Green Mill concert on Sun 5/20 will happen without him. The performers at Sonic Celluloid on Fri 5/18 are now Cleared, Wume, and Good Willsmith. The event at Strobe Studios on Thu 5/17 has been called off entirely.
When Ornette Coleman plugged in and got funky after decades of playing acoustic free jazz, he called his game-changing 1975 album Dancing in Your Head. If the title weren’t already taken, former Chicagoan Ben Vida sure could use it—the sounds on his new LP, Esstends-esstends-esstends (PAN), do exactly that. Working with a hybrid rig that enables him to wield the pure, powerful tones generated by analog synthesis with computerized precision, he quite literally causes sounds to form inside your ears.
After living in Chicago for more than a decade, during which he played with groups such as Town & Country and Pillow, Vida moved to Brooklyn in 2009. He immersed himself in electronic music and enrolled in Bard College’s MFA program, the academic base of one of the 20th century’s great sound-art pioneers, the late Maryanne Amacher. Certain of Amacher’s electronic pieces were designed to evoke otoacoustic emissions—tones that form inside the ear. “Though I never had the chance to study with her,” Vida says, “her ghost remains and her influence is still very much felt within the program.” Esstends-esstends-esstends lacks the brute power of Amacher’s music, but it’s just as psychedelic when his laser-sculpted tones start tumbling like dominos somewhere between your ears.
Vida is coming back to town for concerts on May 17, 18, and 20. The first, a solo set at Strobe Recording (2631 W. Division), will explore the same otoacoustic terrain as the LP. The next night at the Block Museum of Art, Vida will improvise accompaniment to silent movies by Walther Ruttmann and Ralph Steiner as part of Northwestern University’s Sonic Celluloid series. And on Sunday afternoon at the Green Mill, he’ll begin a collaboration with Access Contemporary Music’s Palomar Ensemble—together they’ll perform Liminal Bends, a work in progress that they’ll play twice more this summer. “This commission allows for me to develop a piece in steps—it allows for trial and error,” says Vida. “More than anything, I just want to continue to have experimentation at the heart of the work I am producing, and that means making mistakes. Having an ensemble that is willing to go through that process with you is rare.”
HIP-HOP | Miles Raymer
Jabari “Naledge” Evans, the Chicago-based rapper who’s half of the duo Kidz in the Hall, has a lot on his plate. He’s got a solo album due in October, with a Kidz in the Hall record not long after—and, if he stays on schedule, he’ll earn a master’s degree from the University of Southern California School of Social Work in fall 2013. “Innately it’s always been a part of me,” he says. The son of a social worker and a psychologist, he spent his teens helping at their offices and has always planned on following in their footsteps. “It was something I was interested in well before I got a record deal, you know?”
Evans applied for grad school in 2007, but when his musical career took off, he put education on hold; he didn’t start classes till this January. Now that he’s a new father staring down 30, the additional burden of schoolwork—which he does via the Internet—doesn’t seem so daunting. Besides, he says, “I know a lot of people who work and go to school.”
His postgraduation plans are still coming together, but he hopes to work with at-risk black youth in Chicago. The sudden media focus on the south-side rap scene highlights what motivates him. “Looking at what’s going on with the whole Chief Keef thing—it’s so great to see a teenager from the neighborhood that these guys come from make it, but on some level there’s people who are like, ‘These kids are on YouTube showing guns and talking about gangbanging and killing.’ And as much as we want to pretend that this shit is fun, I’m from some of the neighborhoods that they’re talking about, and these kids take a lot of that literally and they’re actually out here killing and shooting and robbing. And that’s not really all that dope.”
JAZZ | Peter Margasak
Jazz guitarist Bobby Broom has had great success with the Deep Blue Organ Trio, but he’s undoubtedly done his best work with the long-running three-piece he started in 1991 with bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer George Fludas. (Since then the group has had a few drummers—Dana Hall, Kobie Watkins, and now Makaya McCraven.) That band played a weekly gig at Pete Miller’s in Evanston for more than 15 years—up till February 2011—and it’s been the vehicle for the most dazzling displays of Broom’s technical virtuosity and melodic gifts.
The group will release its fifth album, Upper West Side Story (Origin), on Tuesday—Broom, a New York native, moved to Chicago in 1984 for a relationship and never left, and the title is a nod to his birthplace. It’s the trio’s first release that consists entirely of Broom originals—a complete reversal from the group’s 2001 debut, Stand!, which was full of pop and soul classics by the likes of Sly Stone, the Box Tops, Johnny Nash, and Simon & Garfunkel. “I decided that though my original songs might’ve been the most intimate and personal musical portrait, it wasn’t the right approach at the time,” Broom says. “I guess I just wasn’t so grandiose to think that my originals, played by me, would garner significant attention ten or 15 years ago. I felt rather that hearing music that meant something to me, played in interesting ways, was the perfect way to familiarize the listener to my ‘voice,’ so to speak.”
Fortunately Broom feels a little more strongly about his own material these days. Several of the nine tunes on Upper West Side Story have been in his repertoire for nearly two decades, and “Minor Major Mishap” and “Father” both appeared on his 1995 quartet album No Hype Blues. Broom is planning an album-release party for late July.