Last Sunday at Silvies Lounge was the Ears and Eyes festival, providing a deluge of information for both of those information accumulating orifices. The event, curated by Matthew Golombisky and Quin Kirchner, was a culmination of jazz, hip-hop, film/video, painting and print media celebrating the diversity of music in Chicago and the launch of a brand new record label.
Admittingly, I wasn’t able to take in the whole festival. 3pm till 2am is a bit of a long day for me to spend in a bar. However, if the half of the festival that I did catch is any indication, I will definitely try to see the bands I missed in the future.
Thankfully, there was a schedule. Therefore, factoring in the lateness that is typical with live music, I walked in with enough time to chat and warm up before Jim Baker took the stage. Having seen him a few weeks ago with Moore and Ra at the Hideout, I was interested in seeing what that Arp would sound like without accompaniment. Jim started slow, plugging away at the board in what appeared to be a search for a certain sound, hitting dissonant combinations of keys while tweaking and turning knobs and sliders. Early in the set, he looped a small section and improvised over that, but in what appeared to be the never-ending search, that was quickly tossed to the side. Moving us from the soft and warm droning tones through a pixilated forest he would break up our journey a few times with freak-out meanderings. The films being projected during this whole set were quite fitting: screen captures of 8-bit video games and horizontally scrolling pixels in a random arrangement and color.
Jim Baker’s set finished abruptly (at least for me, I could have listened to him all night) and as he started to pack up I couldn’t but think how he looked like a 21st century door-to-door salesman. The black Arp cases containing not encyclopedias or life insurance forms but wires and knobs. When prompted by a skilled performer such as he, these electronics would take the listener on a journey far exceeding those contained in Britannica.
Next up was The High End Trio, a three piece which I can only assume was paying homage to another triology in 5 parts. I believe the excess musicians in this trio were due to the 2 horn players (trombone and sax) that the lead singer (I think) said were not typically part of the band. I was pleasantly surprised by this group, which I attribute to those extra players. The songs were mostly instrumental funk/soul numbers where a smooth base line locked in with a tight rhythm. The guitar player alternated between some burning leads or well-placed warm chords. To a few of the more rocking numbers, the horns added an extra punch, and to the more mellow tunes the horns rounded out the sound quite well. Overall, a pleasant performance that was in stark contrast to the set it followed but none the less interesting.
As a very large ensemble was setting up during an intermission, Middle Mind Project played film shorts from various members of its collective. Barring some technical difficulties, the shorts were quite good, ranging from comedic (a man takes an eye exam in which the letters spell out “I am sleeping with your wife") to the lysergic (blood-soaked naked people making-out in a shower).
Turning from the screen back toward the stage, there was a drum kit on the floor and a keyboard set up in a corner, but the stage was empty. The empty stage was soon taken by the super charismatic Phillip Morris, a political hip-hop MC. He demanded audience participation, with songs that attacked the Bush administration with gusto. For the most part he played to a backing track, accompanied a couple times by a violist(and member of the next group). The few times I have seen MC’s live has taught me there is a fine line between lame and entertaining. Phillip Morris knew how to keep our attention for his full set using not only great rhymes, but great in-between song banter.
Now the mystery was reveled, the drum kit on the floor was to make way to place a hell of a lot of strings and brass on the stage. This was the Tommorrow Music Orchestra playing the music of Other Planets. I counted 15 people on stage that I could see from where I was sitting, but there could have been more hiding in the rafters (which was pretty much the only place left where there weren’t musicians!). With that many people on stage, I was wondering just exactly what I was in for. It was powerful, beautiful, chaotic at times, but never noisy. They knew what they were doing and they were doing it well. The leader, playing a Nord and some other electronic device, informed us of songs dedicated to people in New Orleans (musicians, street vendors, etc) and to the police officer that gave him a ticket for taking a PBR out of Silvie's into his van that was also his home at the time. For the most part, the strings and backing brass created a ground for the lead sax and/or keyboard player to improv over. Adding to the aural overload was more video projections, one that mixed live footage of the band with interesting graphics.
Last up, was a quartet (although 5 people were listed on the poster; Tony Malaby, Rob Mazurek, Chad Taylor, Jeff Parker, & Jason Ajemian.. I think someone was missing). I have seen Mazurek in various forms (playing in Mandarin Movie or Chicago Underground Duo w/ Chad Taylor) and Jason Ajemian (in Dragons 1976) and this particular set was an interesting mix of lullaby and passion. Jason (upright bass) and Chad (drums) created a less rhythmic base, but more melodic subfloor for Mazurek (cornet) and sax (I didn’t catch his name) to work with. In a way the whole group was just one super tight ball of rhythm and melody.
A great event, with only a few improvements that I can think of. FOOD! Either order in pizza and sell slices, or hold the event at a bar that sells food or that is near some decent takeout. My other suggestion would be if you are going to have such an amazing line-up, maybe stretch it over 2 shorter days. I do like the idea of complete information overload and it did do something to enhance the whole experience, but hanging out in a bar for 12+ hours is tough.