Wednesday, January 31, 2007

You'd Think I'd Be More Excited...

And I am, but I've been too preoccupied with other things to really let it show, including putting together an editorial plan for the food and drink beat at Chicagoist.

Say hello to the new Associate Editor of food and drink. I guess what this means is that I can't just rely on reviews of cheap eats and beers anymore. It's just as well, as it seems the more I learn about the beat, the more I realize I have to learn. It's fortuitous that the beat already has some damn good writers that I'd like to showcase more. I think we're all up for the challenge. Now I just need to finish my "foodist manifesto."

When I first signed on for Chicagoist, I wasn't certain how I going to fit in. I had my preconceptions about the site and staff. As I became more comfortable and let myself open up, those preconceptions turned out to be misconceptions by the time I finally met most of the staff. You couldn't meet a better group of talented people, and I'm actually proud to be among the number. It's made me a better writer and given me the confidence to actually sieze or create my own opportunities.

And those are more than just "synopsis, synthesis, and snark."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Proof That Naivete Can Happen at Any Age, or Maybe I'm Just Getting Slow on the Uptake on the Short Side of Forty

Emmy rocks a sweater, and that doesn't make me any less of a man.

The following exchange happened Saturday morning, while I was driving someone around on errands and enjoying a fruit juice from Orange:

Passenger: "I need to get a salt grinder for the birthday boy."

Me: "We're right by Target. You wanna drop in?"

Passenger: "No, Chuck. I need to get him a salt grinder."

Me: "Yeah. Let's go to Targ- ... ooooohhhhhhh."

I went to this Tech Cocktail last week at Amira, in NBC Tower, and it was E2 packed. Not exaggerating. Anyway, I managed to wind up next to Metromix editor Matt McGuire somehow; osmosis, probably. We were talking about, among other things, what I'd like to cover for Chicagoist in upcoming weeks, and he said, "Do you really think your readers would be interested in that?"

He had a point. It does seem that, for the most part, readers respond best to cheap eats, beer, or the pas de deux between retired Jewish lawyers and cheeky male models on "Check Please". And just when I thought that horse was beaten dead, supporters of said model are coming out of the woodwork, firing up the AOL accounts, and coming to the rescue. I can't wait for the lawyer's friends to figure out how to get their e-mail through the tubes to me.

I've largely given up trying to figure out the readers. Some days, it's enough to know that I wrote something, hopefully well, that readers responded to. We all have egos, and I'd rather see a flame war (no pun intended) break out over a tv show than wonder if anyone's reading it at all. That doesn't mean I can't slowly change the course and break some ideas in slowly.

So stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Starbeat Presents What's Happening

In what can only be considered lateral thinking, Sue and I - who live minutes away from Soldier Field - decided to take a train to Tinley Park to watch the NFC Championship Sunday at Durbin's. Thirty dollars got us all we could drink and what Bears fans would call a degustation menu: nachos, pizza, and, for me, a tender slab of ribs. Turned out to be larceny by the time the Bears sealed the game up. Anyhoo, the picture above made us wish that we took the train down Friday night to enjoy the LEGAL way to get high.

I'm starting to get into "24" aftre five episodes. So far, the inclusion of (SPOILER WARNING) Jack's brother this week, and father next week have been done to where I'm finding myself going "Ho-ly SHIT!!". Most of my fears that the show was jumping the shark have been laid to rest.

A large part of that can be credited to Paul McCrane, who brings just the right amount of dickishness to his portrayal of Graham Bauer. It has shades of his "ER" character Bob Romano, who was one of the biggest dicks in the history of television
Still, "24" isn't out of the woods yet. The actress portraying Graham's wife is Rena Sofer, whose casting in other shows usually spells cancellation. Hopefully, Sutherland and McCrane do the heavy lifting.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Flawless Records: 8 Bold Souls "Last Option"

From the comments section of Scott's Chicagoist post about the Illinois Entertainer's top 25 albums of the past ten years:

Chuck: Sorry for going off topic, but is there anyway to work in some modern jazz picks in one of your numerous blogs/posts? I have a growing interest and decent knowledge of jazz before 1964, but am clueless about what's good among the current stuff.

This was a request from commenter "vise77" after I wrote that, while it was nice to see Patricia Barber included on the list, it was more for cursory measures. Fleshing out and showing some diversity. I actually considered 8 Bold Souls "Last Option" to be the best record from a Chicago-based jazz artist in the past ten years. But before I explain why, a little back story about the band first.

The band started out as a little bit of an experiment. Saxophonist and bandleader Ed Wilkerson, Jr. had written some compositions for octet, and set up a series of concerts to debut the music at the old Chicago Filmmakers. The name of the concert series was "New Music for 8 Bold Souls." The chemistry between the musicians and the tightness with which the band played was so good that Wilkerson decided to keep the band intact after the concerts, adding to an already full plate that included, at the time, his work in the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, the larger Shadow Vignettes orchestra, and solo performing.

Wilkerson isn't a fast worker. In the 22 years 8 Bold Souls has been a group, they've only released a total of 4 albums, and one of those is a hard-to-find import. Odds are that if Wilkerson weren't introduced to Thrill Jockey Records founder Bettina Richards, "Last Option" would be hard to find, as well. On the surface, Thrill Jockey and 8 Bold Souls seemed like an odd marriage, until one starts to analyze the jazz and avant garde influences of fellow label mates Tortoise, Chicago Underground, and Isotope 217, then it doesn't seem so far-fetched. The band recorded "Last Option" at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio Recorders, with Casey Rice (Liz Phair) co-producing the record with the band.

Recording at Electrical allowed the band to all be in the same room, working live with the full band dynamic, rather than laying tracks over each other in separate rooms. Wilkerson also wrote some of the best compositions of his career for "Last Option." The result is a record that captures the immediacy of a concert, and a recording where every instrument is distinctively heard. Given Wilkerson's penchant for composing for lower registers and 8 Bold Souls' unique "basso profundo" setup of bass, cello, tuba, and trombone, it's an amazing sonic achievement.

The opening track, the 12-plus minute opus "Odyssey", is a showcase for multi-reedist Mwata Bowden (playing clarinet), cellist Naomi Millender, and trumpeter Robert Griffin. Millender's solo is as tempting as a siren's call, leading to the steady tempest of Griffin's muted trumpet, while the rest of the band stays back in the cut, like a Greek chorus. The simmer of "Odyssey" is followed by the boil of "Third One Smiles", a playful piece of modern jazz that highlights the band's bottom end, with the work of monster bassist Harrison Bankhead and tuba player Gerald Powell sandwiched between fiery solos from Griffin and Wilkerson.

Each of the individual members of 8 Bold Souls is an excellent musician and, with the exception of Powell, given a couple solos to shine. But the genius of 8 Bold Souls is in how tight its members play as a unit. Few bands can move effortlessly from the free jazz opening to the circular rhythms of the title track, or master the manic, staccato riffing of "Pachinko", which wo
uldn't sound out of place on a silent movie film score as a chase scene. Then there are the slower numbers, like the brooding "The Art of Tea", with beautiful bow work by Bankhead on contrabass, or the interplay between Griffin and Millender on "Gang of Four."

The album closes with the New Orleans swing of "Brown Town", featuring one of the most expressive solos Wilkerson has committed to tape and a trombone run by Isaiah Jackson that could start a Mardi Gras parade out of thin air.

The results of "Last Option" were numerous. Through its release on Thrill Jockey, 8 Bold Souls' music was introduced to a younger, multicultural audience, they were able to play in both rock and jazz clubs to packed houses, and they were able to tour longer in support of the record. I remember a concert at Symphony Center in 2001 where 8 Bold Souls opened for Medeski, Martin, and Wood. Not only did they blow MMW off the stage, the filled the room with the music of just those eight musicians and their instruments, and had the handful of jam band geeks who sneaked recording devices into the hall scrambling to set up and get the last two songs of their set.

The success of "Last Option" also gave Thrill Jockey more cache with Chicago's free jazz community. Tenor legend Fred Anderson now records for Thrill Jockey, and Wilkerson released a recording from his new project, "Frequency", with Bankhead, flutist Nicole Mitchell, and drummer Avreeyal Ra. If Wilkerson never records another record with 8 Bold Souls again, "Last Option" would be a fitting epitaph. But I wouldn't bet against seeing Wilkerson getting the band back together one day.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Soup, Please

I got the chance to meet Delfeayo Marsalis the other night, where he and my buddy Mario got into a heated but friendly discussion about pro football (Marsalis is from New Orleans, and they'll be crowing mightily Monday if the Saints beat the Bears). I always thought that if I had the chance to meet a member of the Marsalis family, the eventual argument would center on jazz. The family is known for their largely conservative views regarding the genre. In particular, Wynton, the trumpeter and Marsalis family's most recognizable member, is known for his successful attempts to institutionalize and elevate jazz to the level of classical music, as the driving force behind Jazz at Lincoln Center. In doing so, Wynton's crossed swords with notables in the free and avant garde jazz communities for ignoring sub genres like fusion, electric, and smooth jazz as insignificant to the music's canon, and the stylistic mashing of jazz with hip-hop and R&B. He's even found himself debating his own brother Branford's work with Sting, leading the early version of Jay Leno's Tonight Show band, and the under-appreciated Buckshot LeFonque, as not being true to the spirit of jazz.

Years ago, when I subscribed to the Atlantic Monthly, writer David Hadju wrote a profile of Wynton Marsalis as he approached his fortieth birthday. As someone with a background covering jazz music, I found it to be an interesting piece. Wynton's success at Lincoln Center served to solidify his views, yet he also found himself at a musical crossroads of his own. Marsalis became a casualty of the consolidation of major record labels, the seemingly open checkbook he had at Columbia/Sony Music wa
s taken away, and he was dropped from Columbia. Shortly after the Atlantic piece ran, Wynton found himself at Blue Note, more known these days for their stable of singers (Cassandra Wilson, Norah Jones, and Amos Lee stand out). Even though Blue Note is a subsidiary of Capitol/EMI, it still doesn't reach the deep pockets that Wynton had at Columbia in his peak. He's certainly not hurting; a salary from Lincoln Center in excess of $800,000 can smooth some fairly rumpled feathers. But the way his views were regarded as almost law has lessened. I wonder what he would have thought of Delfeayo's concert last week, with it elements of hard funk and hip-hop rhythms providing a tight groove for his muted trombone runs.

I'm guessing that the wisdom of age would have stilled his tongue publicly, but Wynton would have given Delfeayo an earful in private that would have made the discussion of Bears-Saints seem like tea time chit-chat. It's hard; twenty years ago I saw Wynton's septet play the Chicago Jazz Festival from six rows back in the bandshell. I was enchanted by his cosmopolitan sensibility and passion and respect for the history of the music. HIstory, however, only takes you so far. Eventually, you have to chart your own course. Looking at Wynton Marsalis' discography, I can't help but feel that he's just a highly funded musicologist, more than a musician.

Nothing screams "fish in a barrel" like picking out mullets on a blues club tour, so one can guess how I spent most of Saturday night. There were some righteous ones that made me regret not having my camera on me, from short, professional hockey player fros, to the "early Jerry Seinfeld" period, some classic "Tatanka's" in the mix, and one classic salt-and-pepper job that ran down to a guitar player's lumbar region. One of the singers, Super Percy, kept referring to himself in the third person. He said "Super Percy" so much, it reminded me of the punchline to the "superpussy" joke about a stripper propositioning customers at a gentlemen's club. Hence, the title of today's post.

Other unintentional comedy: go see "Dreamgirls" at Ford City. Sue did, and picked a seat behind three teenage girls drinking rum-and-cokes who knew the words to every song, but still couldn't stop
screaming, "Oh, HELL, NO!" at the screen when Curtis dumps Effie for Deena. The movie is also Eddie Murphy's best moment on film since "Raw". That's nice to know, I still think he has one hell of a comedy concert in him, waiting to come out at the right moment.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

It Should Be 30 Cubits by 90 Cubits

Tomorrow things settle into a level of normalcy, so I have at least one more beer to finish to catch up to the 365-Beer challenge. The details are on today's Chicagoist post and, being that I already committed to 52 beers in 52 weeks for the "Beer of the Week" series, decided on the modest goal of 100 different beers this year. 'Course, given that I'm constantly tasting beer and spirits, I should reach that total before spring. If I do, then I'll look at the 365 goal.

It's flooding outside. More specific, the rain water, thanks to the slow flow storm drains, is coming down so fast that puiddles are spilling over the cubs on my street and flooding lawns. It's a good night for curling under the comforter with a hot toddy and some Sam Cooke.

Actually, that's a great idea. Later.

Monday, January 01, 2007

2007: The Year of the Squeaky Wheel

I worked the past three New Year's Eves, and walked out with an average of $75 over that span. So, with the reduced capacity at work and yet another limited open bar package determined, I decided that if I was going to lose money, it would be on my terms.

Being as this was my first NYE free in five years, I decided to check out Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings at the always classy Park West. There were moments where I nearly regretted the decision. And it started almost from the moment I transferred to the Red Line at Roosevelt, where a groups of kids would not. Shut. UP!! It must've been their first NYE out on the town as legal drinkers, because it made me wonder if I was that stupid at their age.

Leaving the train at Fullerton, I come upon another NYE staple: the spray-tanned blond wearing a strapless cocktail dress, with no coat or wrap to cover her bare shoulders, her arms clenched together in an effort to keep warm, giving me and everyone else the stink-eye for staring at her mass of hard nipples and goose flesh. I know it was mild outside last night, but the wind picked up considerably after 8 p.m., and fifty degrees felt like thirty-five. But this happens every year, even when the temperature is in single digits. But then, high fashion has never been susceptible to common sense. Which is why, in my favorite cashmere duster, I was both toasty and fierce rocking.

The show itself was amazing. Opening act the Budos Band straddled the line between aping old school funk and soul and aping Fela. Done right, you have Antibalas. Done wrong, you get Chicago Afrobeat Project. The Budos are somewhere in between. Some of their tunes just kick you where you need to be kicked, others sound like endless chase scene music from an episode of "Starsky & Hutch." But they have an energy that is undeniable. Jones, however, is a whirlwind, reminding the crowd with her voice and her dance moves just how influential James Brown r
eally was. Any act that can keep my eyes off the lesbian floor show two stools down from me is worth mention.

Yes, there was some drunken lesbian fondling going on at the always classy Park West last night. To be fair, it was more like one straight girl feeling a buzz and making out with a hard core lesbian who wanted to slide into home. This woman's hands were moving like quicksilver all over the straight girl's, fingers sneaking everywhere.

From what I saw.

I left the show early to catch the final bus back to Bridgeport, and was immediately confronted with the remains of Amateur Night. There were people fighting over cabs, girls in torn dresses and thin heels walking - no, STAGGERING - into traffic; drunken frat types arguing to get into Gamekeeper's; dwarfish male thug types looking for an excuse to throw down; petite girls asking why I looked so "sad." I wasn't sad. I was trying to veil my disgust at the scene.

It's my own fault for venturing out. But the force of nature that was Sharon Jones was worth it.

I only have one resolution for this year, and that's to work. Recently, I've been taking steps to re-establish some semblance of a freelance writing career. I'll be indebted to the people who've given me advice, some of it obvious, some that I forgot, all of it vital. In addition, it's no secret that things at work have been hit-or-miss lately. I still love my job, but at some point I think about my well being, as well. If that means that I have to make a change, then I have to be receptive to it.

With that in mind, I've resolved to be pro-active in pursuing more freelance work and making whatever primary gig I have the best it can be. Moreover, I plan on taking that approach to all facets of my life. So, no more waiting for folks to contact me for gigs; I'm looking for them. It's the "squeaky wheel" theory. Sometimes the grease goes to the wheels that don't need it. No one's going to know who I am if I don't tell them. It requires persistence and focus.

We should all be squeaky wheels this year. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to finish my champagne.