Now in its 61st year of presenting challenging, engrossing and boundary-busting performances, the New Music Circle has no plans to coast through its winter season. In January, February and March, the NMC will present concerts at a variety of venues in the hope of portraying exploratory music in dynamic spaces.
Jeremy Kannapell, who serves as the group's program coordinator, notes that the NMC itself comprises "a group of participants who are music enthusiasts of all stripes." Kannapell is part of a relatively small staff, and along with the NMC's fourteen-person board, he helps coordinate what is believed to be the longest running program of its kind.
Even in the realm of music-genre vagueness, the term "new music" is tough to pin down; Kannapell avoids comparing it to other established genres — though overlaps with the realms of jazz, classical and experimental are common for NMC shows — and prefers to describe the common thread as "highly creative music. Musicians are very aware of the tradition but seek to expand on it."
Kannapell says that the crowds at NMC shows are often as adventurous as the music itself, with many people attending based on the group's imprimatur rather than prior knowledge of the headlining artist. "Some people are extremely dedicated listeners in whatever style that artist might navigate, and others are excited to see what the show might turn out to be," he says. "At this point, we still work super hard to spread the word and explore all avenues of routes to new listeners, and every concert there are faces we haven't seen before."
These next three shows will take place in a traditional concert hall (the 560 Music Center in the Loop), a museum space (CAM in Grand Center) and at one of the city's worst-kept-secret musical clubhouses, Joe's Cafe.
"I would say that it's quintessential to the operation these days," Kannapell says of the variety of venues employed for NMC presentations. "Occasionally production requirements or audience turnouts make you choose certain venues over others. These venues are collaborators in some sense, and we've built healthy relationships with those spaces over the years."
Matthew Shipp: 8 p.m. Friday, January 24, 560 Music Center (560 Trinity Avenue). $10 to $20.
Jazz pianist Matthew Shipp is certainly the biggest name on the NMC's marquee this year; the celebrated musician has worked solidly within the jazz-trio tradition for much of his 30-year career, and his own group's recordings sit alongside his many collaborations as documents of a restless creative mind. This solo piano concert will be a special treat for longtime fans accustomed to seeing Shipp alongside a drummer and bassist.
"He has been through at least twice in the past few years, but this is his first and only solo performance of him," Kannapell says. "I think his solo really gets at the core of what he's doing as an artist and all of the conceptual elements that go into his work."
Shipp released a pair of 2018 albums on the celebrated label ESP-Disk that underlined his prominence in the world of adventurous jazz music. This week's solo set should present a stark and streamlined version of his talents.
"When I listen to his music, I don't hear anything that's novelty or experimenting for experimenting's sake," Kannapell notes. "His live performances are utterly relentless, and his solo work exemplifies that."
Sarah Hennies / Merche Blasco: 8 p.m. Friday, February 28, Contemporary Art Museum (3750 Washington Boulevard). $10 to $20.
Percussionist and academic Sarah Hennies has released a number of recordings in various contexts, from indie rock to solo percussion explorations. A recent live recording features Hennies on vibraphone and a slew of others ringing bells at intermittent intervals.
"She was really brought up in the academic realm of percussion study," Kannapell says of Hennies, who is a visiting professor at Bard College this term. "There are very performative and conceptual elements to what she brings to a solo performance."
For her CAM show in February, she'll be joined by visual artist Merche Blasco for two solo, back-to-back performances. Even though most NMC presentations focus on a single artist or group, the opportunity to pair these complementary artists in a museum space was too good to pass up.
"For other things we've presented in a similar fashion, all the coordinators at CAM have been incredibly supportive to make these performances happen," Kannapell says of the venue. "CAM is always sympathetic in what it takes to install something that is highly artistic."
KUZU: 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 11, Joe's Cafe (6014 Kingsbury Avenue). $10 to $20.
The winter season's final show is set to be its most raucous as the improvisational trio KUZU fills the tiny stage at Joe's Cafe. Comprising Tashi Dorji (electric guitar), Dave Rempis (saxophone) and Tyler Damon (drums), the trio has roots in Chicago's famed improvised jazz scene.
"To do it at Joe's is super fun, and the acoustics there are maybe the best in town," Kannapell says. "To hear an instrumentalist and the full scope of their instrument acoustically, where you can pick up on the nuance of it, is very special."