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Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble’s Now is an essential album of the moment

Flipping through television channels. Flicking through radio stations. They’re quotidian actions—until they’re not. When you’ve lived through a year like 2020, every frequency delivers the same nightmare from a different angle. On Now (International Anthem), Chicago sound collagist Damon Locks and his Black Monument Ensemble confidently grasp the tuning dial of history. Like 2019’s Where […]

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Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger address cultural issues from lockdown on Force Majeure

For the past few months, bassist Dezron Douglas and harpist Brandee Younger have dealt with the necessity of social distancing with their own kind of intimate gigs: a series of quietly uplifting performances streamed live through a shared microphone from their Manhattan apartment. Force Majeure collects a dozen of these songs along with brief, perceptive […]

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Rob Mazurek’s latest with his Exploding Star Orchestra finds hope in the cosmos

Dimensional Stardust is a splendid sonic antidote for the spirit-damping insults of a year that can’t end soon enough—growth and transcendence are programmed into the album’s DNA. The Exploding Star Orchestra’s leader, multi-instrumentalist Rob Mazurek, started out playing idiomatically correct hard bop in Chicago’s jazz bars in the 1980s. These days he lives in Marfa, […]

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Trumpeter Aquiles Navarro and drummer Tcheser Holmes demonstrate their powerful synchronicity

Trumpeter Aquiles Navarro and drummer Tcheser Holmes begin their new duo album, Heritage of the Invisible II (International Anthem), with “Initial Meditation,” a red-hot vortex of percussion and electronics whose abrasive, hypnotizing swirls sometimes sound like a helicopter flying overhead. That powerful opening statement makes clear that these musicians—best known from unrepentantly political jazz ensemble […]

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Carlos Niño and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson showcase their telepathic collaboration on the hushed Chicago Waves

In 2005, Los Angeles percussionist, DJ, arranger, and producer Carlos Niño began collaborating with fellow Angeleno Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and music director. That year, Atwood-Ferguson joined Niño’s expansive soul-jazz collective, Build an Ark, and helped record studio albums by two of Niño’s other projects: With Voices, the final full-length from progressive hip-hop production […]

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On the new Who Sent You? Irreversible Entanglements are more political and potent than ever

Irreversible Entanglements will leave you shaken. The group make tight, synergistic free jazz anchored by the dynamic spoken-word declarations of poet Moor Mother, aka Camae Ayewa. Their music sometimes sounds chaotic and freewheeling, but it ensnares listeners with arrangements carefully considered to help deliver fiery political messages. The five-piece ensemble—the lineup also includes saxophonist Keir […]

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Celebrated guitarist Jeff Parker builds electrifying jazz songs out of experimental demos on Suite for Max Brown

Chicago music remains interesting and vital partly because of how local subcultures overlap and intersect. The city has plenty of tight communities of musicians focused on specific sounds, but the borders around those communities are porous; improvising multi-instrumentalists collaborate with rappers, hip-hop producers take in jazz gigs, and rock musicians immerse themselves in hardware-centric underground […]