Groove globally, listen locally


There has perhaps never been a better time for listening to music. There is so much variety out there. Good, cheap technology is making it possible for more and more people to make and share music. And everyone from Amazon to iTunes to MySpace is making it easy to get our hands—and ears—on a dazzling array of music from every little corner of the world.

In some ways, this bounty mimics what’s going on in the food world. Increasingly, formerly exotic ingredients are making their way to supermarkets and home kitchens. Seasonality be damned, if you want asparagus in January, it’s being grown somewhere in the world and chances are, you can find it in the store. I can already hear the locavores groaning. What about carbon footprints? What about protecting local, small farms? What about embracing seasonality and absolute freshness? All valid points.

I’d like to suggest the same thing for music—kind of a locahear movement. You know, supporting local musicians by showing up for their gigs, paying cover charges or dropping something in the tip jar. And by buying their CDs.

I did that this past Friday night, catching a too rare performance by Chicago jazz combo Soulio at Nick’s, a friendly no-cover bar in Wicker Park. Soulio’s website describes their sound as “bluesy, groove-based jazz, hard bop, funk and soul-jazz.” Down Beat magazine’s Jeff McCord calls it “an amalgam of loping funk, Blue Note-like hard bop and a blues-driven vibe reminiscent of the Jazz Crusaders.” And Brad Walseth of labels it “good time straight ahead soul-jazz that is meant to be enjoyed by listeners or dancers alike.” Having heard Soulio live a few times now, I would say their sound is D.) All of the above.

I picked up their self-titled CD too that night, for a mere $12.99. Soulio is 11 tracks, about an hour of loose-hipped but tightly played jazz, a mix of pieces by the greats—Dexter Gordon, Eddie Harris and Freddie Hubbard, for example—two originals by sax player Matt Shevitz and two ’60s tunes, Sunny and Grazing in the Grass. Proving once again that familiarity does indeed breed contempt, these two tracks are my least favorite on the disk. But if I force myself to tune out the “heard that a thousand times” factor, what they do with even these songs is quite nice.

The basic group is a quintet, led by trombonist John Janowiak and rounded out by a sax player, guitarist, bassist and drummer. Given the sometimes hardscrabble nature of local music, personnel sometimes changes. Various friends guest on some of the tracks on the CD—a trumpeter, a keyboard player and an additional drummer. When I saw them this past weekend, they had an excellent trumpeter sitting in with them.

Which brings me back to my ad hoc locahear movement. Making music is a hard way to make a living, especially at the local level. A bass player friend of ours in St. Louis says that you get paid for hauling equipment and you play for free. When I talked to Soulio’s trombonist during a break Friday night, he said they all play in a number of groups, including a corporate/wedding band. He didn’t say so, but I’m sure most of them also have day jobs. For every White Stripes or Mariah Carey or Common who strikes it rich, there are countless hardworking, talented musicians who barely get by [often with the support of an understanding spouse gainfully employed at a place with benefits]. But they do it. They make music because they love it. And we’re all richer for it.

Support them. Get out there and hear some music. In a club, a bar, a coffeehouse… hell, even the lounge of the Holiday Inn out by the airport. At the very least, you’ll have a little fun. You might find something truly transcendent, like Soulio. And I guarantee, the musicians will be glad you came.

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