Tag Archives: Chicago

Threadbare channels many musical styles through a jazz lens on debut LP, Silver Dollar

Photo Courtesy of NoBusiness Records

Threadbare’s Silver Dollar isn’t a conventional jazz record. Despite having instruments that might belong to a jazz trio — bass clarinet, guitar and drums — the Chicago group infuses rock, metal and free jazz flare to give each of the eight tracks a unique feel.

The only two similar tracks on the 50 minute release are connected by title. “Threadbare 02,” which comes first, is a sparse tundra marked by negative space, faraway cymbal crashes, spacey guitar notes and Jason Stein’s masterful bass clarinet playing. By the end of the nearly nine minute track, the band sounds like it’s on the cusp of playing an actual song. Later in the record, the nervous follow up “Threadbare” shows the band finding a song structure using skillful harmonies and a memorable guitar vamp to close it out.

And speaking of guitar, guitarist Ben Cruz’s inspired playing on Silver Dollar elevates each track, whether it’s his heavy, distorted chords on the title track, his interplay with Stein’s careening clarinet on the opener or fretboard-spanning lines on the closer, “Untitled.” Despite Stein’s status as a bandleader in a couple groups, Cruz manages to outshine him at points, creating his own spotlight moments.

Drummer Emerson Hunton, who plays with Cruz in the band Moontype, also offers his restrained, jazz drumming, giving both of the “Threadbare” parts an ethereal sense of rhythm. Hunton’s punchy, chaotic hits on the album’s shortest song, “Funny Thing Is,” give it a bebop feel that makes the track stand out among the alt-rock textures he and Cruz create on “70 Degrees and Counting Down” or the doom metal influence on “Silver Dollar.” They both provide an engaging template for Stein’s ducking and soaring clarinet soloing.

Although Silver Dollar contains no spoken lyrical statements, Stein’s expressive playing acts as the next best thing. The Chicago veteran musician shows great tone control over his clarinet and often hangs in the spaces between notes to create an eerie effect. The album’s best moments come when he plays in harmony with Cruz’s guitar, creating a melodic texture you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else. The only downside is that it happens so infrequently throughout the record’s runtime.

Fusing jazz playing with the flavors of several different types of music, Threadbare have released an engaging debut that never fails to hold attention. With each track contributing a new feel or furthering a previous arrangement, Silver Dollar makes a strong, holistic impression through its various styles and textures, as well as its tight musical chemistry.

4.5/5

Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding share a positive outlook for a world in crisis on new collab, Last Flight Out

Photo Courtesy of Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding

It’s rare to hear jazzy instruments like the vibraphone or the double bass accompanied by the smooth swelling of a string quartet.

But on Last Flight Out, the second collaboration between Chicago singer-guitarist Steve Dawson and his backing band Funeral Bonsai Wedding, unconventional musical pairing intertwine to create a uniquely bright and buoyant soundscape. The album’s musicians skillfully adjust their playing for what each jazzy folk tune demands, supporting Dawson’s lyrics that strive toward creating a better tomorrow. Continue reading Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding share a positive outlook for a world in crisis on new collab, Last Flight Out

ONO surveys America’s history of racial injustices on biting new album, Red Summer

Photo Courtesy of American Dreams Records

Red Summer, the sixth and latest album by avant gospel innovators ONO, marks the Chicago group’s 40 anniversary with a record that surveys the many racial injustices of American history and indicts the authorities that permitted it. Continue reading ONO surveys America’s history of racial injustices on biting new album, Red Summer

Jordan Reyes shares Closer, a collection of six outtakes from his 2019 debut album, Close

Photo Courtesy of American Dreams Records

Stuck in Florida because of a shelter-in-place order, Chicago musician Jordan Reyes found a solution to his limited technical capabilities away from home by unearthing and releasing a collection of pitchy, looping outtakes from his debut album, Close. Continue reading Jordan Reyes shares Closer, a collection of six outtakes from his 2019 debut album, Close

Huntsmen builds a hostile desert world on epic sophomore LP, Mandala of Fear

Photo Courtesy of Prosthetic Records

Two years after its full-length debut American Scrap, Chicago metal outfit Huntsmen have returned with a bluesy concept album more than twice the length of its predecessor. Mandala of Fear, the band’s 85 minute sophomore effort, immerses listeners in a hostile desert world to which even God has turned a blind eye. Continue reading Huntsmen builds a hostile desert world on epic sophomore LP, Mandala of Fear

Jordan Reyes balances childlike wonder with world-weary dissonance on the dual release Fairchild Soundtrack + Border Land EP

Photo Courtesy of Whited Sepulchre Records

Jordan Reyes’ latest output is not your typical album. Although its runtime of 36 minutes falls in the range of a full-length, Fairchild Soundtrack + Border Land EP is really a combination of the Chicago musician’s recent film score and a three song EP, with both sharing similar textures and feelings. But, despite these commonalities, listening to each project on this release is like visiting opposite extremes: one minimalistic and breezy, the other chaotic and challenging. Continue reading Jordan Reyes balances childlike wonder with world-weary dissonance on the dual release Fairchild Soundtrack + Border Land EP

Forest Management explores the formidable landscape of night on its new classically-inspired double album After Dark

Photo Courtesy of American Dreams Records

To interpret a piece as celebrated as Claude Debussy’s La Mer is a bold undertaking for any musician, even those as accomplished as Tosconini, Bernstein or John Williams. And further, to successfully adapt it into a different style of music comes with its own set of challenges.

But the decision by Forest Management, the Chicago-based music project of John Daniel, to sample and recontextualize the famous symphonic sketches into an ambient double LP feels wholly appropriate. After all, Debussy valued sound and texture over melody and progression much like today’s ambient artists. “There is no theory. You merely have to listen,” Debussy once said. “Pleasure is the law.” Continue reading Forest Management explores the formidable landscape of night on its new classically-inspired double album After Dark