Saturday, May 20, 2017

Chicago musician Andy Pratt releases debut album, will perform free show at the Hungry Brain



By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Chicago musician Andy Pratt's love for musicians like Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits are on full display on his debut album, "Horizon Disrupted."

In support of the new album, Pratt and his trio will perform a free show at 9 p.m. May 24 at the Hungry Brain, 2319 W Belmont Ave., Chicago.

I had the chance to talk to Pratt about the new album, which was engineered by well-known producer Steve Albini.

Q - Great talking to you. In sitting down to make "Horizon Disrupted," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

My most basic goal with "Horizon" was to document a collection of songs that I had been writing over the past five years. My next goal was to hear these songs arranged for a string quartet along with a standard guitar/vocals, bass, and drums trio.




Ultimately, I wanted to have all of the above properly recorded. Not only do I feel that I accomplished these goals, but I also could not be happier with how the album turned out.

Q - Is there a meaning behind the album's title?

Yes and no. I like to think that the meaning can be different and personal to each listener.
 


For one person, it could be about lost or unrequited love. For another, it could be about missed chances, stifled progress or just a pause.



And while this album was not conceived as a political vehicle, it could reflect the current climate that our country is in. "Horizon Disrupted" also relates to the title track which on the surface is about how disappointing it is that there is not a good sunset, or really any sunset across Lake Michigan in Chicago…but there is a reward…if you're a morning person. 
 

Q - How did you hook up with Steve Albini and what do you think he brought to the project?

In January of 2016 I emailed Electrical Audio, the studio that Steve built and owns, and told the studio manager about the project with strings that I was working on. He said that Steve was interested in engineering the record.


My ensemble and I went into the studio in July of the same year and spent four days there. Steve brought his very special thing to the project.

He has a way of capturing the best of the natural/organic aspects of a voice or instrument. He knows exactly what microphones to use, he's quick, and he doesn't like to waste time.

He records exclusively to analog tape…there wasn't a computer that was ever used during the session. There were two days of tracking followed immediately by two days of mixing.

Every performance was tracked simultaneously/live with the string quartet in the studio. The mixing process involved a lot of quick decision making.

And by the end of the four days, I had a mixed album. Steve helped create a warmth, atmosphere, and truth that I don't believe I could have found with many of his contemporaries. 

Q - It seems that Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits are strong influences in your music. How would you say they have influenced you?

With both of them, I really love how they tell stories through their music. They both are poets, respect melody, and utilize the spoken word.


To be honest, I've spent a little more time with Waits's music. I admire and am fascinated by the different stages his music went through from the '70s until now.

In terms of his vocals, I love that he isn't afraid to try different voices and effects. I also admire the theatrical angle that he adds to his shows.

I'm trying to add some more of that to my performances…not to copy his work, but to find my own way of doing things.

Q - Of course, there is another Andy Pratt who is best known for his song "Avenging Annie." Do you have to constantly explain to people that you are not "that" Andy Pratt? Or do you see it as another way to introduce people to your music?    

This is always kind of a funny topic. He actually befriended me on Myspace about 10 years ago or so. He was very kind in his introduction and recognized we were both musicians with the same name.


There has been a time or two where someone would show up to one of my shows thinking that the other Andy was going to be there. And venues/show listings have used his picture for promotion by accident before.

But usually most people know that we are separate artists. I do like to mention to people on the phone or via email that my message/call is not from the Boston Andy Pratt of '70s rock fame. So, it is a nice icebreaker.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

Chicago has a fantastic music scene. The city is filled with great musicians and honest/cool people.


There are venues to play and musicians are treated well. The second part of this question is a bit more tricky.

My roots and training are in jazz. Most nights of the week I'll be playing and/or singing the songs of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, etc…American Songbook material.



While a lot of these artists and songs have influenced my own writing both lyrically and harmonically, the music I've documented on "Horizon" is a different thing. This music doesn't really fit at a club such as The Jazz Showcase or Andy's Jazz Club.

It really works better at other types of venues. So, I'm still figuring out exactly where I fit in the scene. I want to push my own music as far as it will go and keep moving forward, but it's also important to me to maintain my jazz background.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Chris Greene Quartet pushes musical boundaries on new album, will perform at Winter's Jazz Club in Chicago


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Chicago saxophonist and composer Chris Greene and his bandmates don't believe in musical boundaries.

So it's appropriate that The Chris Greene Quartet's latest album is titled "Boundary Issues." The band will perform a number of shows in support of the new album, including on May 20 at the Winter's Jazz Club, 465 N. McClurg Court, Chicago.

More information and tickets are available at www.wintersjazzclub.com.

I had the chance to talk to Greene about the new album.


Q - Great talking to you again. So you are known for pushing the boundaries of jazz, and your new album is called "Boundary Issues." Did you try to push the boundaries even more on this album?

We never consciously tried to push the boundaries of jazz, although I think we certainly challenge most people’s idea of what jazz is. Individually, we listen to and are influenced by so much music along with jazz, so when it comes time to make music with the quartet, no genre, style, or musical idea is off the table.




Musical boundaries and divisions simply don’t exist to us. Good music is good music.

With “Boundary Issues,” we’re basically distilling many styles and using them as staring points for the compositions and the improvisations.

Q - This album is the eighth one with your quartet. How do you think the band has grown and evolved over the years?

On one hand, we’re committed to being the best musicians we can be, so we all continue to do our homework off the bandstand. Hopefully, that comes across on the recordings.


At the same time, I think we’ve realized that it’s no longer enough for us to dazzle an audience with our musical versatility. We simply want to play good, challenging and interesting music for people - regardless of style or genre.

Some of our most fervent fans are people who previously thought that they hated jazz. Those are the folks who end up buying all of our albums.

Q - The album also features a number of guest stars. What do you think they bring to the table?

This was the first time that we’d had guests in the studio with us, but I knew that the three musicians I chose would add their distinctive flavors to the sessions and push us to greater heights as a collective. Marqueal Jordan is simply one of my favorite saxophonists (and people) here in town.




Our musical influences intersect at several points, so he was a natural choice to join us for the song, “The Crossover Appeal.” JoVia Armstrong is an incredibly tasteful percussionist who performs in every situation imaginable, and her vibe enhances her two appearances.

And what more needs to be said about the great, young guitarist Isaiah Sharkey? I was elated that he could join us for two songs!

Q - "Boundary Issues" features both originals and interpretations of other people's songs. How did you go about choosing what songs to cover for this album and what did you want to do with them?

It always comes down to having enough new quality material that we’ve had ample time to test in front of various audiences. Once we hit a point where we’re focusing less on the sheet music and more and making the music sound and feel good - that’s usually the time to call our producer Joe Tortorici and book the studio time.

Q - Along with having your own quartet, you are also a musician that is in demand. Do you have any favorite musicians to work with?

As far as people I work with, I’m a little biased toward The J Davis Trio (led by my friend, vocalist Julio Davis - who also makes an appearance on the album) and the mighty West side funk/soul/R&B collective Midnight Sun (where I met Mr. Sharkey). Ultimately, I just love playing music, so I’m humbled and flattered when anyone calls me to play with them.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

For the first 10 years of my career, people only seemed to know me from my early electric funk/jazz band New Perspective, my long association with a Dave Matthews cover band and various other rock and hip-hop projects.
 




So they’d be shocked to discover that I could play straight-ahead, acoustic jazz - which is what I went to school to study. For the next 10 years, people only seemed to know me as a traditional jazz player, and were surprised that I liked funk and other stuff.

Now people don’t seem to be surprised to see me with a jazz trio one night, a funk band the next, and a rock cover band the next. I just like playing music.

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

I wrote and recorded background music for a children’s play recently, and I’d like to do more of that. I’d love to score an independent film.


I also want to compose, arrange and produce for other artists. I’d also like to eventually release music or comedy albums by other artists on my label.

The sky ain’t even the limit no more. No boundaries.

Brad Cole putting new spin on blues, bossa nova



By ERIC SCHELKOPF
 
In putting together his group Bossa Blue, singer-songwriter Brad Cole - who these days splits his time between his hometown of Chicago and New York City when he's not on tour - wanted to marry two different musical genres - the blues and bossa nova.

The group recently finished a residency at The Hideout in Chicago. I had the chance to talk to him about Bossa Blue.

Q - Great talking to you. In coming up with the idea for Bossa Blue, what were your goals and do you think you have accomplished them? 

My goals for Bossa Blue were to mash up bossa nova and the blues with a bunch of my favorite classic and contemporary tunes and I want to get the band in shape so that we can do more residencies along the lines of what did at The Hideout.      

Q - I know that the band has covered such songs as Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" and Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home." What led you to want to reinterpret these songs and what new dimension do you think you have brought to them?


These songs have great melodies and hooks and it’s my predilection to give them more of a jazz feel. These songs are the standards of our generation and therefore must be interpreted.  

Q - How did you go about assembling Bossa Blue and what do you think each member brings to the band? 

The Chicago band is Tad Santos on upright bass, Diana Lawrence on piano and Josh Lava on drums. All are great musicians, each with a strong jazz sensibility and a gift for vocal arrangements. Having Diana and I singing together is a direct link to the male/female vocal harmonies intrinsic to Bossa Nova. 

Q - Last year, you released your fourth album, "Lay It Down," which received much acclaim. What did you want to achieve with the album? 

“Lay It Down” saw me move from a folksier sound to something a little more soulful and musical. My inspirations for the album were bossa nova, reggae and soul music, but updated for the 21st century.


I feel that I wrote some good stuff that I was able to record with a full band.   

Q - What made you want to move to New York City? How do you think the two music scenes are different? 

I was living in Nashville and fell in love with a woman living in NYC. Moving there benefited my touring, as well, as I am able to play shows up and down the East Coast.   

Chicago has a more intimate music scene, while NYC is more scattered and hectic but the musicians there are especially strong. 

Q - Where do you see Bossa Blue going from here? Will the group continue to be a side project for you as you release new music on your own? 

Bossa Blue is primarily a covers band and a lot of fun. I am still writing a lot of original material and the musical sensibility of Bossa Blue is definitely influencing my music.

As to where Bossa Blue is headed, we’ll just have to see as more people have a chance to see us and what the overall reaction is. But for now it is fun and a great challenge.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Paramount Theatre presents energetic version of "Jesus Christ Superstar"

Photo by Liz Lauren

 

By ERIC SCHELKOPF
 
As someone who has watched the 1973 movie version of "Jesus Christ Superstar" dozens of times and had the honor of interviewing Ted Neeley - the actor who portrayed Jesus in the movie - I had high hopes for the Paramount's version of "Jesus Christ Superstar," first conceived by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in 1970 as a rock opera concept album.

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The musical starts out strong as Mykal Kilgore - a newcomer to the Paramount stage - bounds on to the stage as Judas Iscariot in a powerful version of "Heaven On Their Minds."
 
But there are standout performances throughout the production, such as the one given by Lorenzo Rush, Jr. - also a newcomer to the Paramount stage - as a brooding Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest who is plotting to have Jesus killed. And Avionce Hoyles' take as King Herold is as funny and campy as Joshua Mostel's performance in the same role in the movie version of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
 
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Evan Tyrone Martin, previously seen on the Paramount stage as Triton in "The Little Mermaid" and Tom Collins in "Rent," turns in a multi-dimensional role as Jesus of Nazareth. When his followers sing his praises in the song "Hosanna," the look on his face is that he is truly amazed he has had such an impact on them.

But it is during the second act of "Jesus Christ Superstar" that Martin truly owns the part. The emotional burden that he feels in on full display in the song "Gethsemane" as he accepts his outcome.
 
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What is even more remarkable is that Martin stepped into the role of Jesus after Destan Owens - who was originally cast in the role - had to leave the production because of a family emergency. Martin was originally supposed to play Peter in the production.
 
That Martin was able to turn in such a powerful performance after assuming the role only a few weeks ago is an example of his immense talent. Directing and choreographing this production is Ron Kellum, who has plenty of experience under his belt, having directed more than 20 musicals nationwide as well as choreographing "Iron Man 2." His decision to feature an all-black cast in "Jesus Christ Superstar" was a brilliant move, especially given the immensely talented cast.
 
The production ends on a glorious note with the cast singing an a cappella version, gospel-infused version of "Jesus Christ Superstar," the crowd at the Paramount happily clapping along.

 

 "Jesus Christ Superstar" will continue through May 28 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Boulevard, Aurora. Tickets are available by calling the Paramount at 630-896-6666 or visiting its website, www.paramountaurora.com.