METAL: Yakuza keeps spreading out on the new Beyul
Chicago avant-garde metalband Yakuza release Beyul, their sixth full-length and second for Profound Lore, on Tue 10/16 (with a listening party Wed 10/10 at Liar’s Club). Plenty of metal bands incorporate jazz and world-music influences, but few integrate them so seamlessly and purposefully. Yakuza function very well as a tight four-piece, but they like to invite friends and sprawl out: guests on Beyul include cellist Helen Money, vocalists Tim Remis (Sweet Cobra) and Angela Mullenhour (Sybris), and improvising saxophonists Mars Williams and Dave Rempis.
I caught up with Yakuza front man Bruce Lamont—also a vocalist and/or saxophonist in several other groups, including Bloodiest and Circle of Animals, as well as an organizer and booster of farmers’ markets—between a grocery run and his gig tending bar at the Empty Bottle. Beyul was recorded, mixed, and mastered in a speedy eight days, he told me, because the band and producer Sanford Parker “have it down to a science by now.” I also asked him what we both knew was kind of a stupid question—whether organic food from local farmers has made his lungs stronger. “I think you know the answer to that,” he said. “Yes, it makes my lungs stronger, and other things too.” Lamont further denied ever having impersonated Robert Plant in front of a mirror before taking on his tribute band, Led Zeppelin 2.
When I asked him what he hoped listeners would take away from Beyul, he said, “I never impose my will on listeners. They will take away what they take away.”
So far, what I’m taking away from the album is rapt admiration of its subtlety and complexity, which detracts from Yakuza’s raw force not one bit. I’m also feeling again the joy I’ve always found in Chicago musicians’ welcoming openness to collaboration, even in the fiercest and most challenging of genres.
CLASSICAL: A Spektral residency
Chicago’s Spektral Quartet gave its first performance just a little more than two years ago, and it’s since established a reputation for mixing standard string-quartet repertoire with new music from composers such as Lee Hyla, George Flynn, and Hans Thomalla. The group—cellist Russell Rolen, violist Doyle Armbrust, and violinists Aurelian Fort Pederzoli and Austin Wulliman—is part of a growing wave of inventive new-music start-ups, the kind that tend to organize their own concerts at unconventional spaces and perform or premiere work by young composers. This approach is no longer particularly radical, and even when it was new it was hardly a guarantee of success—which makes it stunning news that the Spektral Quartet has been named ensemble in residence at the University of Chicago, beginning with the 2012-’13 season.
“We consider ourselves lucky and honored to be working at such a venerable institution,” Rolen says. “We will be overseeing and coaching the chamber-music program, giving workshops each quarter, playing as core members of the department of music’s New Music Ensemble, collaborating with faculty and student composers, leading sectionals for their orchestras, and performing three or four full quartet programs.” The appointment will help sustain the group financially, he notes, but the affiliation is worth more than the money.
The Spektral Quartet has also scheduled a full season of local and midwestern concerts independent of the university. The group sees its mission as bigger than just mixing old and new work—it also wants to dispense with the highbrow atmosphere that often prevents young listeners from engaging with classical music. “For us, there is no pretense inherent to this music,” Armbrust says. “We want the experience to feel like introducing a friend to a new favorite band, turning up the volume on the stereo, and shouting, ‘This is my jam!'”
On Fri 10/12 the group will play as part of a daylong concert during the free Logan Launch Festival, which inaugurates the U. of C.’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts; its program includes pieces by Haydn and Wolf as well as George Crumb’s thrilling Black Angels.
FUND-RAISERS: An Indiana label joins in on Chicago artist community building
Logan Square bar the Burlington hosts a benefit show on Sat 10/13 for Indiana indie label Captcha and a Chicago nonprofit called Artists’ Cooperative Residency & Exhibitions, aka ACRE. The bill includes three local acts—metal band the Swan King, electro-prog project Night Terror (aka Tyson Torstensen of Magical Beautiful), and Cleared guitarist and electronicist Michael Vallera—plus Seattle doom group Bell Witch.
Captcha honcho Benjamin Funke starting working with ACRE founders Emily Green and Nick Wylie in 2009, when they were involved with a similar organization called Harold Arts. In 2010 they founded ACRE, a volunteer-run organization that aims to support and nurture community among aspiring artists in a variety of mediums, including music. ACRE offers a residency program every summer outside Steuben, Wisconsin, where artists from around the country (and Canada), some on scholarship, spend 12 days working on projects using ACRE’s facilities—including a fully functioning studio.
About a year ago Funke became more involved in ACRE’s sound program. ACRE residents who are visual artists get a show at a Chicago gallery (the organization has its own), and Funke wants Captcha to function as a similar resource for ACRE musicians. “I will give them the platform to release their music and promote them and do what I can in that regard,” he says. Each resident can work with the label on a physical release.
Two weeks ago Captcha’s site started posting weekly pay-what-you-want downloads (minimum $1), each one of a couple tracks by a musician who’s performed or done a residency at ACRE. Proceeds from those downloads and from Saturday’s benefit go to ACRE’s sound program.