unrepentant rockist, I’m not ashamed to admit that I find most jazz a bit
mind-boggling: I generally prefer when improvised instrumental music gives
me a 4/4 backbeat or a touch of punk-rock aggression to provide a handle on
things. But next week, two acts that have long been Chicago favorites are
returning to the stage with sounds that bridge the worlds of jazz and rock
in intriguing and accessible ways.
moving here from Kansas City in the early ’90s, the Coctails became the
virtual house band at the late, lamented Lounge Ax, until splitting up in
1996. The quartet was probably best known for its spiffy attire—matching
black Beatnik suits or yellow tuxedos that would do a polka band proud—and
its innovative low-budget/thrift-store merchandising; the D.I.Y. 12-inch
“action dolls” of the four band members remains my favorite gimmick.
mix of ’50s “cool” jazz, esoteric soundtrack music and lo-fi indie-rock
pioneered by Mark Greenberg, John Upturch, Archer Prewitt and Barry
Phipps—multi-instrumentalists one and all, switching off on everything from
sax and bass clarinet to vibes, flugelhorn and bowed saw—also presaged and
partly inspired the cocktail lounge/space-age bachelor pad revival. And
these sounds hold up amazingly well on the new three-CD “Coctails Pop Corn”
box set released by longtime champion Patrick Monaghan’s Carrot Top Records.
set compiles assorted rarities, B-sides and out-takes from throughout the
band’s career, and serves as a fine introduction to the group (though my
favorite release is still “The Early Hi-Ball Years” album, which compiled
the best moments of the quartet’s first two albums and initial EP). Even
during their strangest moments of free-form wailing and odd-time-signature
meandering—think Sun Ra on a bender—the Coctails never totally lost the
plot, thanks to a pervasive tongue-in-cheek humor and an irrepressible love
of melody that “post-rock” bands such as Tortoise or Prewitt’s The Sea and
Cake could sorely use.
Coctails have come together again to celebrate the release of the box
set—they reunited once before, when they were the last group to perform at
Lounge Ax when the club was forced to close its doors in 2001—but having
opened one show for the Pixies at the Aragon late last year, they’ll split
up once more following a gig at the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, at 10 p.m.
next Saturday (Jan. 15). Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew in his solo guise
as Dump opens, and tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door. Call (773)
478-4408 for more information.
founding drummer of the Smashing Pumpkins and the short-lived Zwan, Joliet
native Jimmy Chamberlin always brought a jazzy finesse and an impressive
dexterity to his most primal pounding. Now, with his former bandmate Billy
Corgan pursuing a solo career, Chamberlin is free to really indulge his
jazzbo leanings on his own solo debut, “Life Begins Again” (Sanctuary).
Credited to the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex—the core band featuring Chamberlin
on drums, his primary collaborator Billy Mohler on bass, Sean Woolstenhulme
on guitar and Adam Benjamin on Fender Rhodes—the disc boasts 11 tunes that
generally boast an early ’70s jazz fusion/progressive-rock vibe while
varying wildly in their specific styles (and in their quality) depending on
who’s guesting at the vocal mike.
most impressive names among the cameos, crooning on one or two tracks each:
Corgan, Rob Dickinson, formerly of Catherine Wheel, and Bill Medley, one
half of the Righteous Brothers.
Chamberlin wrote most of the lyrics himself, drawing on his experience of
fighting back from the drug addiction that nearly claimed his life, and
they’re infused with a new-found spirituality. “I think that love and
spirituality and this cosmic vibration that runs through everybody is a real
thing,” he says. “For me, music is a testament that if you acknowledge the
vibrations going on around you, it’s possible to reproduce that in to an art
course, the primary reason to give the disc a spin or to investigate the
group live is to catch the vibrations on Chamberlin’s drum set: He’s still
atop the shortlist of the best percussionists Chicago has ever produced.
Jimmy Chamberlin Complex performs at Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, at 9
p.m. next Saturday (Jan. 15). Giant Step opens, and tickets are $12 in
advance or $15 at the door. Call (773) 489-3160 for more information.