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Herculaneum



HERCULANEUM

Saturday · The Comet

Probably the "exploratory young Jazz player" capital of America, Chicago has an exciting Free/Avant-Garde Jazz scene that shows no signs of drying up any time soon. At least if relative newcomers Herculaneum are any indication. The quintet formed in 2002 and features members who have worked in one of Chicago's other strong sub scenes, Indie Rock. The members have played with the likes of Chris Mills and Wilco, but their journeys into Jazz with Herculaneum are anything but touristy excursions (members also have experience with various improvisational and experimental acts, lest you question their credentials). Following up their 2004 self-titled debut, Herculaneum returned to the record store bins last year with the captivating Orange Blossom, released by the 482 Music imprint as part of their "Document Chicago" series, chronicling the sometimes overlooked new talent of the Windy City's "creative music scene."

It's probably easier to describe to the casual listener what Herculaneum is not, rather than trying to pinpoint exactly what it is they do. Though "Post Bop" is a fitting catch-all to throw them into, the ensemble is free of any superfluous Free Jazz skronk. And Orange Blossom, though open enough for some tasteful improv (dig the almost discordant horn interplay on "Lionheart"), is hardly just a bunch of throwaway songs used to provide a stage to showcase the players' flashy chops. The album shows Herculaneum is progressive, but built around moods and — most relevantly — the compositions. This sounds like a true band, not just a pick-up collaborative.

The group combines interesting, World music-inspired rhythms and pointed horn stabs on opener "Bears of Illium," a song that breathes dynamics, moving from somewhat frantic to bubbling tranquility like a pro race car driver gracefully gearing down for the big turn. That nimble, laidback serenity also drives "Fuzball In Valhalla," a ghostly crawl constructed on a creeping bass/guitar pattern and laden with evocative vibes, and the darkly gorgeous "Cry of the Locusts," a mournful Chamber music composition that would have been a good fit in Kubrick's last film, Eyes Wide Shut, featuring spooky piano from drummer/composer Dylan Ryan and Andra Kulans' spine-tingling viola. "Twin Unicorns" picks the pace and mood up, sounding like a much bigger band with the intertwined mishmash of horns spiking in different directions, but always coming back to the harmonious warmth of group playing. Orange Blossom is a fantastically versatile listening experience, refined and accessible enough for purists and adventurous enough to catch the attention of fans of the more progressive side of Jazz. As for the live show, you might not get a better bargain for your Jazz dollar all year ­ Herculaneum's show at The Comet Saturday is free. (Mike Breen)

BUCKWHEAT ZYDECO WITH THE LIBERTINES US

Saturday · Southgate House

Musical pioneers come in a variety of forms and fashions but few are as unlikely or as infectious as Stanley Dural Jr., better known as Buckwheat Zydeco. Born in Lafayette, La., in 1947, Dural emerged as a piano prodigy by the age of 4; by then, he'd already been christened with his Our Gang nickname because of the braids his mother put in his hair. By the time Dural was a teenager, he was already well regarded as a professional player from stints with R&B stars Lynn August and Joe Tex and Blues legend Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. In 1971, still in his early 20s, Dural formed a 16-piece Funk band named Buckwheat and the Hitchhikers, which toured and recorded for five years. In 1976, Dural was invited by Zydeco legend and family friend Clifton Chenier to play organ on Chenier's tour that year. While the genre was a fixture in Dural's upbringing, he never really gravitated toward it as a musician until touring with Chenier; by 1979, he had switched to the accordion, absorbed everything he could about the instrument from acclaimed master Chenier, reinvented himself as Buckwheat Zydeco and started his own band, the Ils Sont Partis Band.

After a handful of albums for Blues Unlimited and Rounder, several of which earned Grammy nominations, Buckwheat Zydeco attracted the interest of Island Records. Signing with them made him the first Zydeco artist with a major label contract. The late '80s were hugely successful for Buckwheat, with commercial success and another Grammy nod for his major label debut, On a Night Like This, and a profile-raising appearance in the Dennis Quaid/Ellen Barkin film, The Big Easy, a mystery/action movie set in New Orleans. By the '90s, the public's taste for Zydeco had waned and Island dropped Buckwheat, after which he label-hopped from indie to major and back again.

Music elitists subsequently snubbed Buckwheat for the crime of popularizing Zydeco, but his relentless touring ethic earned him an army of fans who have remained loyal regardless of the industry's attitude. One thing is certain — if you remain in one spot for the duration of a Buckwheat Zydeco performance, he's probably playing at your wake. And they might just get you to tap your toes anyway. (Brian Baker)

ALL THAT REMAINS WITH MISERY SIGNALS, HUMAN ABSTRACT AND CELLADOR

Tuesday · The Mad Hatter

All That Remains might well be the most aptly named band in the entire Metalcore community. Frontman Phil Labonte and guitarist Oli Herbert are literally just that — the last original vestiges of the Massachusetts band they formed nearly a decade ago as a side project away from Labonte's duties as lead vocalist for Shadows Fall. When Labonte was jettisoned from Shadows Fall in 1998, he seamlessly transitioned into ATR as his full-time gig and the quintet almost immediately acquired a reputation for bringing a melodic edge to their Hardcore/Metal hybrid. ATR also acquired a reputation for grinding through second guitarists, bassists and drummers with an almost unnerving regularity, losing seven members in those positions in the past nine years. Some departures have been attributed to the standard cause of defection — "creative differences" — while others have been slightly more colorful and odd, as when bassist Josh Venn suffered a psychotic reality break on the eve of the band's slot on the 2005 Sounds of the Underground tour (he had just replaced Matt Deis who had left to join CKY). Labonte himself nearly exited ATR when he auditioned for the vocalist position with Killswitch Engage (they hired screamer Howard Jones instead).

In that same period, ATR has released a trio of albums — 2002's Behind Silence and Solitude, 2004's The Darkened Heart and last year's monumental The Fall of Ideals — that expanded the accepted parameters of Metalcore and its brutal antecedents, particularly Grindcore masters like Cannibal Corpse and Entombed and Swedish Death Metallers like At the Gates and In Flames. And while ATR has been building the better and more commercial Metalcore mousetrap — The Fall of Ideals' first single, "This Calling," debuted at No. 75 on the Billboard charts and featured prominently in the Saw III soundtrack — their membership has changed like the seasons, the latest casualty being drummer Shannon Lucas, whose impressive lightning rhythms were the rapid heartbeat of The Fall of Ideals. Lucas was first replaced by Tim Yeung (who was awarded the title of World's Fastest Drummer at the 2006 NAMM show in Austin, Tex.) for ATR's winter tour dates and has since been supplanted by former Diecast timekeeper Jason Costa.

For now, the influential five piece — Lebonte, Herbert, Costa, bassist Jeanne Sagan, guitarist Mike Martin — is a stable unit. Stay tuned for breaking Metalcore news. (BB)

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