A posthumous CD release for the great Eddie Johnson
Tenor saxophonist Eddie Johnson, who died last year on April 7 at age 89, was one of Chicago’s greatest jazz musicians, a pure embodiment of the classic swing he’d grown up playing. He only made two albums under his own name, and the better of the pair, 1981’s Indian Summer, was finally issued on CD by Nessa this month, with a bonus track not on the LP. (His other album is the 1999 Delmark release Love You Madly.)
Johnson was born near New Orleans and settled in Chicago in 1941, where he played in Cootie Williams’s big band. He turned down an offer to join the Duke Ellington Orchestra in favor of a better-paying stint with R&B giant Louis Jordan (a decision he later regretted), and by the end of the 40s he’d all but retired from music. He picked up the horn again full-time in 1980, playing regularly at Andy’s with the quintet that appears on Indian Summer—trumpeter Paul Serrano, pianist John Young, bassist Eddie de Haas, and drummer George Hughes. This kind of warm, elegantly driving swing is in some ways a lost sound, because so many of the musicians who originated it have moved on or died. It’s good to have it back, if only on disc.
After an April residency at the Whistler, in early May the trio Sun Rooms—vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Nate McBride, and drummer Mike Reed—recorded their second album at Strobe Recording with engineer Griffin Rodriguez. As yet untitled, it’s due from Delmark in the fall. Ken Vandermark’s Topology will enter Strobe for its first session on June 3, following a show at Elastic the night before; the nonet will record Vandermark’s arrangements of compositions by Poughkeepsie multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee (see page BTK), who’s part of the group. —Peter Margasak
Cleared celebrates the cassette
The cassette revival is proof that absolutely anything can make a comeback. What’s there to love about the format? The muddy sound? The crushable case? Even its chief virtue—that it lets you cheaply copy and distribute music—does little to recommend it now that CD-Rs, podcasts, thumb drives, and torrents exist.
But anything you grow up with is a potential object of nostalgia. “Cassettes are what I had the most of, and listened to daily during my early youth and teens,” says Steven Hess, who plays drums and electronics in Chicago duo Cleared. “I had very few LP records at that time, and CDs were not created yet, so I had shelves full of these fucking tapes. I like the sound quality of cassettes for certain types of music, and also the fact that they are not totally permanent. After 15-20 years they are going to start to deteriorate, and I’m kind of into that.” While Hess is in his early 40s, Cleared guitarist and electronicist Michael Vallera is in his mid-20s. He grew up on CDs, but tapes still have a spot in his heart: “The cassette has been a very large part of my life, because it was what I used to record in my first bands and solo projects,” he says. “Using a cheap four-track and learning to bounce tracks and saturate the signal was pivotal in the development of my style and interest in experimental music.”
So late last year, when Oklahoma label Digitalis Industries offered to put out a cassette-only Cleared release, the duo accepted—and then turned the self-titled tape, which came out in March, into a celebration of the format. The blurry quality of Cleared’s music, with buried rhythms forcing their way up through layers of gray sonic fog, makes it immune to tape’s insults. Hess made “Natural,” which takes up all of side two, by doing a live mix of leftover rehearsal and field-recording tapes while Vallera played along. And the cassette’s J-card, with its bold, all-caps red print on a white spine, deliberately recalls the Columbia label’s old design—which anyone who ever joined the Columbia Record Club or shopped at Sam Goody in the 80s will recognize. —Bill Meyer
Au revoir to Joie de Vivre
Say good-bye to Joie de Vivre: the Rockford six-piece is breaking up at the end of the month, after four years of making epic, downcast ballads in the vein of beloved 90s emo band Mineral. “We just kind of decided that we all have different priorities,” says guitarist Patrick Delehanty. They plan to finish up their sophomore full-length in June for a release on Count Your Lucky Stars this fall. Their final Chicago show is Thu 5/26; e-mail email@example.com for details.
Chicago four-piece Dowsing made their live debut at a Joie de Vivre show in January, and earlier this month they dropped their first EP, a six-song collection of upbeat, straightforward emo-pop called All I Could Find Was You. It’s available as a pay-what-you-want download from Bandcamp, and Dowsing is talking with labels about a physical release.
In February 2010 local emo troubadour Evan Thomas Weiss (aka Into It. Over It.) launched a series of split seven-inches called Twelve Towns, and on Tuesday the sixth and final installment—a split with pogo-punk act Such Gold—was coreleased by No Sleep and Mightier Than Sword. On Weiss’s side, “Portland, OR” is introverted and almost minimalist, while “Washington, DC” is heavy pop punk. Most of the 500 vinyl copies sold out in preorders, so for now the songs are only available digitally; Weiss will have physical copies soon, but not in time for his Beat Kitchen set Thu 5/26. —Leor Galil