June 6 we celebrate D-Day, the date of the Allied invasion of northern Europe in 1944 (which marked a major shift in momentum during World War II). This week in Chicago jazz, just a few days shy of that anniversary, the northern Europeans return the favor.
Tonight and Thursday, 61-year-old Czech pianist Emil Viklický will make his Chicago debut at Club Blujazz, in a visit sponsored by the Czech Consulate General’s office in Chicago. Although Viklický is essentially unknown here, he has recorded frequently at home, often with visiting American musicians.
Like so many of the best jazz musicians outside the States, Viklický not only plays the standards but also leans on native materials as the basis for improvisation – in this case, the romantic and harmonically haunting Moravian folk tradition of his homeland. Presumably, that accounts for the consulate general’s description of Viklický as the “Janácek of Jazz.” (Either that or they didn’t trust Americans to know the name of any other Czech musician.) The epithet refers to Leoš Janácek, the great Czech composer of the 19th and 20th centuries, who plumbed the Slavic folk tradition for inspiration.
In any case, Viklický visits Chicago primarily as a pianist rather than a composer, scheduled to mix it up with a number of Chicago jazzmen. These include baritone saxist Ted Hogarth and drummer Ernie Adams, and Wisconsin saxist Richie Cole, the resurrected bop and hard-bop master.
Urs Leimgruber: fine Swiss craftsmanship
Meanwhile, the veteran Swiss saxophonist Urs Leimgruber continues his two-week sojourn in Chicago. Leimgruber performed twice early last week as part of the cooperative Ensemble SIX; this week, he leads his Trio Leimgruber at three different Chicago venues. (The trio comprises Leimgruber on tenor and soprano and two of the Swiss musicians from Ensemble Six, Jacques Demierre on piano and toy piano, and Charlotte Hug, who plays viola and sings.)
When he plays unaccompanied, Leimgruber – who has appeared several times in Chicago (most recently last fall) – focuses on repetitive, scientific investigations of the saxophone’s capabilities. He’ll use overtones, multiphonics, and an exquisite control of the instrument’s most difficult expanses to create stark, often forbidding landscapes of extra-musical sound. In ensemble settings, Leimgruber uses the same techniques, yet enfolds his solos in the group esthetic. This trio, new to me, promises plenty of unusual textures and challenging cross-talk.
Charlotte Hug (photo by Alberto Venzago)
Tonight (Wednesday) at The Hideout, Trio Leimgruber joins forces with Chicagoans Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello and electronics) and Lou Mallozzi (turntables). Thursday, the trio plays at Elastic, and Friday they perform at Heaven Gallery, first on their own and then in a second set joined by Chicagoans Josh Berman (cornet), Paul Giallorenzo (piano and synth), and Jason Roebke (bass). All performances rely in part on funding from the Swiss General Consulate of Switzerland, the Swiss Benevolent Society, the City of Geneva, and the Republic and Canton of Geneva.
Club Blujazz is at 1540 W. North Ave.; sets at 8 and 9:45 PM, tonight and Thursday ($10).
The Hideout is at 1354 W. Wabansia; two sets starting at 9:30 PM tonight ($10).
Elastic is at 2830 N. Milwaukee, on the second floor; two sets starting at 10 on Thursday ($10).
Heaven Gallery is at 1550 N. Milwaukee, on the second floor, and space is quite limited; first set starts at 10 on Friday (donation requested).