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Chicago’s 1920s nightlife incubated world-changing musical and social experiments

The Roaring Twenties have often been portrayed as a time of wealth, glamor, and social change. Technological advances, including more widespread electrification and increased use of automobiles, plus the growth of mass media such as radio and movies, drove a booming economy—though then as now the benefits were inequitably distributed. Inspired by movie stars and […]

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Singer-songwriter Silvana Estrada conquers heartache on her debut Marchita

On her exquisite debut album, Marchita, Mexican singer-songwriter Silvana Estrada dissects the many bruised facets of a breakup in 11 intimate, elegant tunes. Estrada colors her compositions with her experiences growing up in a family of classical musicians and luthiers as well as her jazz studies at the University of Veracruz. On Marchita, she traces […]

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Wadada Leo Smith joins forces with guitarists Henry Kaiser and Alex Varty on the aquatic Pacifica Koral Reef

Trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith, who turned 80 earlier this year, is seemingly at the height of his creative life—despite having already catalogued decades of accomplishments across dozens of releases, both in the company of AACM masters and as a bandleader. In May he issued a pair of three-disc sets, one focused on solo […]

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Percussionists Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang return to in-person performance for their annual solstice concerts

Six years ago, I characterized Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang’s winter solstice concert series as “an anchor, a beacon, and a seasonal tradition in its own right.” The two drummers began performing as a duo at Links Hall in 1990; surrounded by percussion instruments from around the world, they would begin by candlelight, then play […]

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Chicago electronic group Courtesy go pop but stay weird

Chicago group Courtesy have always staggered and glitched across the line between experimental and pop electronics. Their first album, 2011’s Idmatic (Tape Deco), recorded by members Drew Ryan and Kirk Rawlings in Memphis and Chicago, is filled with ambient drone and feedback noise but also illustrates their pop sensibilities; on “Sisters,” for instance, percussive clang […]

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AACM repertory ensemble Artifacts establish their own sound

Flutist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid, and drummer Mike Reed initially formed Artifacts as a repertory group; the music on their 2015 debut album, Artifacts (482 Music), includes compositions by founding or early members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, among them Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, Amina Claudine Myers, and Roscoe […]

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Joshua Abrams and Chad Taylor concentrate their shared history in Mind Maintenance

Mind Maintenance is Joshua Abrams and Chad Taylor, two musicians whose concord transcends time, distance, genre, and instrumentation. They’ve been playing together since the 1990s, when they both lived in Chicago, and their collaborative relationship has endured since Taylor headed east 20 years ago. They’ve jointly backed the likes of singer Sam Prekop and cosmic […]

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The Reader’s guide to Chicago in Tune

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events originally planned to celebrate the Year of Chicago Music in 2020. Then the pandemic diminished those festivities to the point that the city declared 2021 the Year of Chicago Music too.  The ongoing surge of the Delta variant means the U.S. won’t be rid of the pandemic […]

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Chicago has nurtured jazz since its infancy

There’s been jazz in Chicago for nearly as long as there’s been jazz. While jazz is commonly said to have ridden the rails to Chicago around 1916, when the Great Migration of African Americans from the south to the north kicked into gear, Dixieland bandleader Wilbur Sweatman had played gigs on the city’s south side […]

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Angel Bat Dawid finds creative kinship in Sistazz of the Nitty Gritty

Brotherhood, meet sisterhood. Those who know clarinetist, composer, and self-described “sonic archaeologist” Angel Bat Dawid from the incisive October release LIVE likely associate her with her stalwart seven-piece band, Tha Brotherhood, which backs her on that album. It was recorded during a fraught, frustrating 2019 European tour, but when the pandemic shuttered venues and stilled […]