PERCUSSIONIST IMPROVISOR COMPOSER
The sheer range of sounds that course through "Broken Wire" (Eighth Day Music) may catch some listeners off guard. Middle Eastern scales, avant-garde brass riffs, exotic synthesizer effects, retro swing rhythms, European-tinged cello lines -- the members of Broken Wire absorb it all in their remarkably freewheeling performances. What the recording lacks in continuity and consistency it easily repays in adventurousness, with keyboardist Jim Baker, percussionist Michael Zerang and multi-instrumentalists Fredrick Lonberg-Holm and Daniel Scanlan unleashing great torrents of sound one moment, extremely spare utterances the next...
© Chicago Tribune
Prog rock has been the object of much derision since itmutated 20 years ago into such unpleasant musical organisms as Kansas, ELO, and Supertramp. But the 90s being the decade of guilty pleasures, it's not uncommon these days to encounter ghosts of proggers past in the least likely places. Broken Wire totes some of the genre's typical baggage: sectional tunes, extended space for soloing, synthesizers and electric guitars mixed with strings, melodies that float over odd, jumping meters and squalls of hard-rock back-beat. But on their debut, Broken Wire (Eighth Day Music) these four accomplished local improvisers never settle for mere retro; even Jim Baker's "Shooting an Elephant," a song actually composed in 1969, sounds quite current, especially during Baker's frightening electric-shaver synth solo. Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm contributes four cool tunes, two of which ("Wheat in the Pocket" and "Bobby") have a distinctive Middle Eastern flavor as does the group's cover of Nubian funkster Ali Hassan Kuban's "Om Sha'ar Asmar Meddafar." Daniel Scanlan hops from electric guitar to fiddle to (least successfully) brass with trademark freneticism, and percussionist Michael Zerang handles the dizzying time signatures with ease-on his "Blonde in Beirut," he starts with sensitive hand percussion, then kicks out the additive-metered Arabic jams on a full kit. But the record's smash hit should be the cover of "Ida Lupino"-Scanlan passes for Carlos Santana with a classic-rock solo over Carla Bley's melancholy line, while Baker (who is fantastic all record long) creeps in with one of the most surprising keyboard solos I've herd in ages, an off-time version of the melody that sounds ike it's being tuned inon a radio. This performance, sadly one of the very last musical events at the Lunar, is a release party for Broken Wire. Also on the bill are the improvising quartet Odradek and the postbop ensemble Chicago Underground Orchestra. Friday, 10 PM, Lunar Cabaret and Full Moon Cafe, 2827 N. Lincoln; 773-327-6666.
© Chicago Reader
Though the Wednesday night jazz series at the Empty Bottle opened just a few weeks ago, it already has produced several intriguing performances. None, however, has been quite so volatile or audacious as this week's installment, a show by a provocative band called Broken Wire. As the ensemble proved in its first set Wednesday evening, Broken Wire is the rare unit that successfully walks the line dividing jazz from alternative rock and avant-garde classical music.
In fact, the four members of Broken Wire clearly believe that there is no such line distinguishing these idioms. Rather, the players roam freely among these and other musical languages, taking what they will from one camp or another to create a forceful, boldly stated sound of their own.
No doubt some savvy listeners would question whether this music--with its blistering electric guitar lines, heavily amplified cello passages and outlandish keyboard-synthesizer effects--really stems from the jazz tradition at all. In some instances, the only tangible link to jazz owes to Broken Wire's emphasis on freewheeling improvisation.
Ultimately, however, the category into which this music falls is largely irrelevant, especially considering the technical virtuosity, musical sophistication and artistic daring of most everything that Broken Wire plays. Labels notwithstanding, this is intellectually challenging, technically demanding music fashioned by players who clearly are deeply committed to it.
The driving force behind Broken Wire appears to be multi-instrumentalist Daniel Scanlan, whose work on electric guitar, amplified violin and even cornet represents the lead "melody" voice of the band. Though Scanlan used the cornet mostly as a softly accompanying instrument, his work on guitar and violin was striking.
In high-energy, high-volume passages, Scanlan took pains to make even the most fleeting notes ring out clearly. Despite the speed and fury of many of his guitar and violin solos, he dispatched these pieces with a crispness, precision and control that one rarely encounters in music as hard driving and as heavily amplified as this.
Keyboardist Jim Baker and cellist FredLonberg-Holm mostly provided texture and color, but they did so inventively. Baker's space-music sound effects, with oscillating pitches and great bursts of dissonance, reaffirmed his status as one of the enterprising keyboard-synthesizer masters in the city. How he created such novel sounds while seamlessly blending into the sonic texture of the ensemble remains something of a mystery.
Like Scanlan, cellist Lonberg-Holm also brought a hyper-virtuoso technique to the proceedings, his bowed passages showing palpable classical influence. And drummer Michael Zerang offered everything from standard swing back beats to unmetered rhythmic eruptions.
Like a Kronos Quartet with teeth, this band hits hard but plays smart.
© Chicago Tribune