Xoinx Pulls the Plug

On September 3 at around 8 PM Robbie Hunsinger and Tim McLoraine showed up at Xoinx Tea Room with koto player Brett Larner, whom they’d booked to perform there that evening–only to find that the venue was out of business. “We got there for the show and the place was closed, the lights were out, and the door was locked,” says Hunsinger. “We were in disbelief. I couldn’t believe that we didn’t know.”

Hunsinger and McLoraine, who also play together in the double-reed trio Corvus, had been scheduling experimental and improvised music at Xoinx, 2933 N. Lincoln, on Thursday nights since late December. The series provided valuable opportunities for acoustic musicians interested in exploring the boundaries between free jazz, classical, and improvisation; the great-sounding hardwood-floored back room where it took place, dubbed the Fusion Gallery, attracted not only local improv-scene mainstays like Jim Baker, Fred Lonberg-Holm, and Kent Kessler, but also Chicago sound sculptors like Lou Mallozzi and Steve Barsotti and international artists like violinist Malcolm Goldstein. Hunsinger says attendance at shows fluctuated between 10 and 60.

“We started it because we needed a place for this music to be heard,” says Hunsinger. “When you work really hard to learn how to play an instrument and develop a particular sound on it, it’s really nice to have a space for it to resonate in. We both really enjoyed booking it, especially seeing how a musician would react to the acoustics of the room.”

As pleased as Hunsinger and McLoraine were with the series, after eight months of the grind they decided to take August off. The performance by the Tokyo-based Larner was to be their return to regular scheduling. But Xoinx, which opened in January 1997 and consistently lost money, had been shuttered just days earlier. (Owner Christine Turner, who was understandably brusque on the phone, said she couldn’t remember the exact date.)

Hunsinger and McLoraine’s arrangement with Turner was loose but generous–Turner, whose last name Hunsinger says she didn’t even know until recently, asked only one dollar per every paid admission in return for use of the space. (The rest of the money, minus some postage costs, went to the artists.) Turner says she didn’t contact Hunsinger and McLoraine about the closing because she didn’t know about the Larner gig. “They told me they had no idea when their next concert would happen,” she says. Turner did arrange for Chicago Filmmakers, which had presented its Kino-Eye Cinema series in the Fusion Gallery, to complete its scheduled programming.

Hunsinger and McLoraine have already started looking for a new space, and though Hunsinger couldn’t give any specifics she says she’s confident they’ll find one soon.

Time to Get Nervous

The music series at Xoinx started just in time to fill the void left by the Lunar Cabaret when it bowed out of the business. In fact, it seems every time an important venue has closed–the old HotHouse, Bop Shop, Unity Temple–a new one has come along to pick up the slack. The Nervous Center, a coffeehouse at 4612 N. Lincoln, next to the Davis movie theater, may be the scene’s next savior. Ken Vandermark booked Thursdays there in September as an experiment and says squeaky floorboards over the basement space are the only potential drawback. The saxophonist, most frequently heard these days fronting the Vandermark 5 (which jams nearly every Tuesday at the Empty Bottle) or in the DKV Trio, had presented a shifting array of the less-active ensembles he’s involved with at Lunar and hopes to continue the practice at the Nervous Center: Caffeine, his trio with pianist Jim Baker and drummer Steve Hunt, and Signal to Noise Unit, an experimental combo with percussionist Steve Butters and tabletop guitarist Kevin Drumm, were among the first acts he programmed.

Vandermark will spend October and most of November on tour in the U.S. and Europe, but last week he decided to keep the fledgling series going by asking others, including Fred Lonberg-Holm and trombonist Jeb Bishop, to take over while he’s gone. Check Reader listings for updates.

Postscripts TK

Drummer Jim Kimball, who replaced Mac McNeilly in the Jesus Lizard in late 1996, left the band at the end of August. Brendan Murphy, formerly of Burnout and the Wesley Willis Fiasco, is filling in with the group on its current European tour, but according to manager David Viecelli, it hasn’t been decided whether he’ll join permanently.

One of the most thrilling concerts so far this year was the first meeting of German bassist Peter Kowald, Chicago tenor titan Fred Anderson, and powerhouse drummer Hamid Drake back in May. Kowald’s in town again this week for two gigs: on Friday he’ll reunite with Anderson at the Velvet Lounge (drummer Avreeayl Ra will fill in for Drake, who’s unavailable), and on Wednesday at the Empty Bottle he’ll play one set solo and one with Fred Lonberg-Holm.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Robbie Hunsinger, Time McLoraine photo by Nathan Mandell.