Lost sleep and no regrets

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There’s just something about seeing music played live, especially in an intimate setting. Up close, you can catch all the nuances—musicians coaxing sounds from their instruments, interacting with one another as solos are handed off, feeding off each other’s direction and energy. Sure, you can sometimes sense this in recorded music, but there’s something absolutely magical about watching it happen.

So when I got an email that there was going to be a concert at the Jazz Loft, I was ready. The Jazz Loft isn’t a full time music venue—actually, it’s some guy’s Wrigleyville apartment. In the couple/few years we’ve been seeing shows there, the place has changed hands a couple of times. But each time it’s rented to someone new, there’s an understanding that jazz shows will occasionally happen there.

The shows themselves aren’t so much concerts as they are jazz parties. There’s no cover, it’s strictly BYOB, and the scheduled start time for sets is really more of a suggestion than a hard number. The music is always avant garde and usually features local musicians. But sometimes, touring musicians in town for a paying gig will be included in the line-up.

There were two acts scheduled for this past Saturday’s show. I got rolling later than planned and ended up trawling for parking for more than half an hour. So by the time I made it to the Loft around midnight, I’d missed the first set. The second act, The Engines, was just setting up to play. The members of this quartet are all major figures in Chicago’s improvised music scene, playing in numerous groups and projects and, especially in the case of saxophonist Dave Rempis, organizing music events such as those at the Jazz Loft and Elastic. Trombonist Jeb Bishop, drummer Tim Daisy and bassist Nate McBride round out the group.

The Engines’ set was a satisfying mix of apparent chaos and intricate structure, with energetic outbursts and quiet, introspective passages. Sometimes the Jazz Loft parties are packed. At this one, the audience barely outnumbered the musicians—but everyone there was totally into the music.

The show was being recorded. After the set, D Bayne, former Loft tenant and continuing host of the parties, told me it would eventually be released as part of an ongoing project of his. He’s doing small pressings—just 100 disks each—of ten shows. An artist friend is hand painting the CD clamshell cases. This fact alone could launch me into a discussion of how increasingly cheap, increasingly sophisticated hands-on technology is making such cool things possible, but I’ll save it for another time.

After the musicians had packed up, no one was quite ready to leave. Various conversations swirled around the room, sometimes overlapping and converging, much as the music had done earlier. When I finally headed out, it was around two in the morning. I had a ten-block walk back to my car ahead of me and knew we had plans for a family breakfast out in about eight hours that would mean no sleeping in [as if we ever sleep in]. All in all, it sounded like a fair price for the night I’d just had.

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