Latin-jazz journeys with Richard Hildner Armacanqui, the return of P.O.S., a test-drive for new venue Communication, a rare visit from David Byrne, and more events of note in Madison this week. | By Scott Gordon, Reid Kurkerewicz, Katie Richards, Joel Shanahan, and Henry Solo
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THURSDAY MAY 10
Minnesota-born classical guitarist Xavier Jara is 25 years old and already has racked up a lot or prestige, including six years studying in Paris under French guitarist Judicael Perroy and a slew of awards. More importantly, though, Jara has demonstrated a knack for the melancholy and plaintive qualities of his instrument. The collection of recordings he released in 2017 does not feel like the work of a young virtuoso flexing his muscles. Rather, Jara seems to be patiently searching for the subtle shades in these pieces, which draw on composers including Italian 20th-century composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Brazilian classical guitarist Sergio Assad. The collection was recorded in a church in Ontario, so Jara's approach should translate well in this performance at the historic Gates of Heaven synagogue, organized by the Madison Classical Guitar Society. On his current tour, Jara has been playing pieces by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Dusan Bogdanovic, Joaquin Rodrigo, and Stephen Goss. —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY MAY 11
Multimedia artist Dylan McLaughlin combines filmmaking with music and elements of performance art in an intensely collaborative body of work that has explored space, movement, environmental issues, and Native American identity. His pieces have spanned from collaborations with dancers to a short documentary portrait of musician Anthony Braxton. The performance he's giving here will emphasize a combination of video and live music performance. It's part of McLaughlin's "CauseLines" project, which, as he describes it, "engages a historic technology of music composition used by people of the Northern Plains. This is a practice of studying horizon-lines from which to create melody and tone repertoire."
The event is presented in partnership with Madison's environmentally focused Terra Incognita art series, and will find McLaughlin collaborating with at least one local musician, bassist and Terra Incognita co-organizer Rob Lundberg. It's a bit tricky to know what to expect, but one video piece connected to the CauseLines project, "In Transition Is The Most Honest," combines sparse music, narration, and gorgeous drone-shot aerial footage of a desert landscape.
"For this iteration it’s going to be more of a sound and video meditation from the material generated over the last year from several geographies," McLaughlin tells Tone Madison. "In this case coastal California, mountaintop erosion in New Mexico, and dammed rivers in North Dakota. These are meditations on the complexities of place and the visibility of human presence and non-human presence. Rob Lundberg and myself will be performing these geographic improvised 'scores.'" —Scott Gordon
The Minneapolis jazz quartet Mississippi Hot Club took shape in 2012, when lead guitarist and pianist, Joshua Parlanti, was inspired by Romani jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt to move away from the folk music and redirect his attention towards jazz and swing. Nowadays, this hot-club ensemble still pays homage to Reinhardt's work, covering his pieces with their own eclectic maneuvers intermixed with original tracks. By varying the tempo and mood of the songs they play, Mississippi Hot Club cater their sets to either a dancing or listening crowd, depending on the venue.
The band's 2017 release, Swing Cities, includes a repertoire of jazz standards mostly written or at one point recorded by Reinhardt. Beginning the album with a popular Django original, "Swing 42," the quartet demonstrates their mastery of the genre with a pop-focused flair. Violinist Alissa Jacobsen and lead guitarist Parlanti share the melodic foreground, trading off solos. On Reinhardt's 1941 recording of the same song, the lead guitar takes the first solo and the violin solo follows; in Mississippi Hot Club's version, the instruments take the opposite order and give the swing a higher register and enhance the smoother feel. The second to last track, "Bei Dir War Es Immer So Schön," is a Reinhardt adaptation of German jazz pianist Theo Mackeben's original song, initially written for an operetta. Rhythm guitarist lan Stenlund (a former Madisonian and a founder of the great noise-rock band Kitty Rhombus) slows down the swing a bit here, allowing Mississippi Hot Club to give the track a romantic spin. Replacing the trumpet in the original track with Parlanti on piano, the group highlights the breadth and depth of their grasp on the genre, transforming early 20th century jazz into fresh, accessible swing. —Katie Richards
Communication is a new collaborative arts space opening up on Milwaukee Street that aspires to answer the diverse needs of Madison's evolving creative community. A soft open means that the venue isn't officially operating at full capacity, giving the venue a chance to experiment and giving audience members a chance to get to know the space. Communication's founders eventually hope to provide opportunities for Midwestern visual and performance artists, including studios and gallery space, as well as offering a community-driven venue for music. Communication is also opening its doors to all-ages guests, meaning they will provide a sober arts space.
"We want to create a space that is not for one community of people," says artist Jennifer Bastian, one of the space's founders, "but that integrates communities and is for everyone." Bastian and the space's other founders will also be on hand to give tours and answer questions. "The goal of the soft open is to start a dialogue between Communication and the neighborhood that will be involved in its development and growth," Bastian says.
The night begins with tunes from DJ Lauden, who reliably reaches into dusty corners of electronic music, hip-hop, and R&B. CNL (Claire Nelson-Lifson), of Madison bands Proud Parents and Cool Building, will perform a solo set of their introspective and guitar-driven solo music. Midas Bison headlines the evening, with their sugary-sweet experimental pop interwoven with confessional and personal stories about queerness. There is a suggested $5 dollar donation. —Reid Kurkerewicz
The InDIGineous jazz series continues its lineup of local performances focused on original compositions with Madisonian and Peruvian-American guitarist Richard Hildner Armacanqui, sometimes referred to as simply Richard Hildner. His versatile playing brings attention to Latin-American musical ideas often marginalized in Madison, mixing music he picked up from his family with other traditions, especially jazz. Armacanqui executes that ambitious stylistic meld with striking fluidity and precision, putting his talents to use in a diverse array of bands, including the Afro-Peruvian acoustic dance group Golpe Tierra and the funky quartet Barbacoa.
Armacanqui's original compositions, which will be a focus of the night, seek to reflect his sense of hope for a future of diverse representation, and he often plays with a huayno style—a popular genre of Andean music characterized by a three-count rhythm (like a waltz) that emphasizes the first beat, making it great for dancing. Collaborating with seven other musicians—sax/bass clarinet player Tony Barba, trombonist Nat Mcintosh, pianist Edu Campos, bassist Nick Moran, vocalist-percussionist Juan Tomás Martinez, and percussionists Yorel Lashley and Aaron Gochberg—Armacanqui will also play other compositions that draw from Andean, Afro-Cuban and Latin-jazz traditions. "A lot of its music this group hasn't played before," Armacanqui says. "We had to get together and sit down to learn these new styles, so it's very exciting." —Reid Kurkerewicz
SATURDAY MAY 12
Madison band Gentle Brontosaurus are an indie-pop five-piece in the lineage of eccentric, soft-spoken acts from They Might be Giants to Camera Obscura. Their name suggests a kind of restraint, as the gentleness of the band coexists with the considerable musical talents that they put to careful use on their sweet, twee sound. GB's instrumentation is complete with a ukulele, the occasional horn arrangement, and a laid-back rhythm section, giving the bulk of the band's songs a chill, summery feel. Lead vocalist Huan-Hua Chye sings with the ringing tone reminiscent of Dolores O'Riordan, sometimes trading off vocal duties with Nick Davies, who very seriously sounds like Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian.
This show will celebrate the release of Bees Of The Invisible, the band’s second full-length album, with fellow Madisonians Dash Hounds and Cats On Leashes rounding out a clever animal-themed bill. Gentle Brontosaurus' new album draws its name from a Rainer Marie Rilke quip that likens the artistic process to bees collecting honey. “I love that idea of the transformation of the material world through art, the distillation of the sacred from the profane, the inescapable interconnection between the physical and the spiritual,” Chye says. “In practical terms, I guess this means writing fun little romps about moldy showers and athlete's foot.”
The production on the band's previous album, 2015's Names Of Things And What They Do, could make Gentle Brontosaurus songs sound like they just might politely disappear. But Bees is much more sonically robust, as illustrated on the song "Wicker Park," which you can stream below. Chye’s vocals ring out clear as the blue sky over rollicking guitars that establish a friendly warmth from the first note. The song, which was originally a response to a songwriting challenge prompt, tells the fictional story of a messy apartment in Chicago. "I don't care if my house is clean," Chye sings, as she describes a scene that sounds comfy despite the empty pizza boxes lying around, before a trumpet leads us out the backdoor of the song. —Reid Kurkerewicz
Many of what could've been the best post-hardcore bands in the early-to-mid-aughts were compromised by a battle between vocalists to see who could whine in the highest, most childlike register. Thankfully, on 2017's Pariahprism EP, Madison's Carbon Bangle only embraces post-hardcore's most enjoyable traits—gritty and dissonant guitar riffs, batshit rhythmic syncopation, and an overall sense of hair-raising urgency. In fact, it's actually vocalist Brandon Washington's twisted vocals and spacey electronics that tie everything together and add a sense of psychedelic wonder to the mix instead of holding everything back.
"Vesica Pisces" cuts the ribbon by hurling out a loving tornado of frantic drum work, jagged earworm guitar lines, and slithering electronics, as Washington's vocals waver between confrontationally upfront and distantly washed out in a swirl of effects. Another EP highlight is "Zodiacal Light," which waltzes drunkenly into space-rock territory with its gorgeous guitar melodies and nuanced rhythms. —Joel Shanahan
Half-Stack Sessions is a local group of activists who push for gender equality in Madison's music scene by organizing events and meetings. Their spring showcase, which is also a fundraiser for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, features a lineup of Midwestern bands that supports the cause and celebrates the diversity of local and regional music.
Kitten Forever is a hardcore punk, drums- and bass-focused trio from Minneapolis, whose members trade off on their intense vocal duties. Blacker Face hails from Chicago, and their fast-paced, genre-hopping funk sound is supported by the politically charged lyrics and vocal delivery of Jolene w/e. No Hoax is a local hardcore punk outfit that plays thrashing, epic jams with a brooding edge, while fellow Madisonians Gender Confetti are a queer-punk duo who combine noise and pop songwriting sensibilities to inspiring effect. Besides a punk aesthetic, the bands are tied together by the passionate political messages in their lyrics—demanding equality, and simultaneously celebrating their individual means of thriving in an unfair world. While many Half-Stack events are private, this showcase is open to the public. —Reid Kurkerewicz
TUESDAY MAY 15
In a solo discography that began with 2004's Ipecac Neat and as a member of seminal midwestern rap crew Doomtree, P.O.S., real name Stefon Alexander, has maintained a mostly consistent approach across his releases: tight, enunciated vocals; overtly personal and political lyrics; and abrasive beats that often point to his roots in the DIY punk scene. But over the course of his discography, he's opened up his tendencies in beat selections (2009's Never Better is one high point in this regard) while mostly sticking with his distinctively blunt vocal and lyrical approaches.
His newest solo record, 2017's Chill Dummy, further widens the scope of Alexander's production approaches. There are still cuts like "Faded," which resemble his much older stuff with its sludgy bass and even sludgier drums, and Alexander also doubles down on his embrace of electro-funk on 2012's We Don't Even Live Here. Cuts like "Pieces," though, run more alongside contemporary trap, with its use of that in-vogue slick snare pattern. And on "Gravedigger," Alexander wanders through the kind of astral and cinematic instrumental that is reminiscent of songs like "All The Stars" from the Black Panther soundtrack.
The approach of Serengeti makes for a nice contrast on this bill. A Chicago emcee, David Cohn performs under this name and Kenny Davis, a fictional legendary emcee with a backstory and universe of his own. On Serengeti's latest album, 2016's Doctor Of My Own Patience, Cohn collaborates with German electronic producer Sicker Man, real name Tobias Vethake, with very effective results. Cohn raps, sings and sing-raps over Vethake's droning and ambient beats. It's the kind of devil-may-care, self-shirking experimentalism that you wish every artist would engage in more often. —Henry Solo
WEDNESDAY MAY 16
Talking Heads co-founder, creator of the Luaka Bop label, and prodigious solo artist and collaborator David Byrne is coming to Madison a promising solo tour (his first in nine years), in support of a long-awaited but disappointing solo album, American Utopia. According to live reviews and videos from cities he's already come through, Byrne's band uses wireless instruments to fluidly do that beautifully awkward dancing reminiscent of the Stop Making Sense tour, with results that resemble a weird, postmodern, 12-piece marching band.
While Byrne's lyrics have often turned everyday banalities into intellectually quotable and life-affirming anthems, American Utopia, his first proper solo album in 14 years (that's not counting collaborative efforts), coughs up lame phrases like "elephants don't read newspapers / And the kiss of a chicken is hot." Even worse—despite the taut economy of Talking Heads and the crafty arrangements Byrne has delivered across his post-Talking Heads career—the songs become bogged down in excessive sonic layers that fail to ground the listener anywhere. The single "Everybody's Coming To My House" is the strongest moment on the album, but still has far too much going on, with horns, multiple synthesizers, erratic drums, electronic percussion, goofily distorted guitars, and a depressingly deflated bass. To be fair, I'm comparing this solo album to the Talking Heads discography, which is one of my favorites, in addition to a solo career marked by stellar collaborations with the likes of St. Vincent and Brian Eno (who also appears on the credits of American Utopia). Even if half the show is bespotted with the recent album, tickets are worth it for the rare chance to hear timeless, nearly-perfect Talking Heads songs and better tracks from Byrne's solo discography in their live glory. —Reid Kurkerewicz