K-rAd freely improvised and spontaneously composed an original, pulsing, burbling, chiming, floating and ripping, multi-layered, deep and flowing funky-bassed, percussion-lively suite over about three hours last night (7/25/18), using his elaborate, sound-unbound Euro-rack synthesizer setup to stir, smooth and spice social interactions in a seemingly unlikely Chicago venue for such a thing.
Down an alley, through a back door (see the bright red arrow) down in a basement of Sushi Dokku in Chicago’s fashionable W. Randolph Street dining district, a small crowd of not-necessarily music-seeking patrons seemingly in their late 20s sat at booths or a horseshoe bar sipping sake, picking at small plates, chatting, flirting, a couple necking. They were clearly easy, maybe pleased and perhaps somehow moved by the electronic music, which filled the room actively, vividly. This wasn’t subtle Eno-esque ambiance, more like Terry Riley’s mirrors on Rainbow in Curved Air reflecting shards of guitar-keyboards from In A Silent Way with James Jamerson‘s loping Motown dance lines underneath and marimba, gongs, super-fast figures, anything else of sonic possibility liable to bubble up or flash forth any moment. Often yet not always there was a perky, steady beat and streaming sequencer figures but no other recurring structure to speak of, hence no expectations, and no guidelines (words, “melody,” song form, defined harmonic field) for listeners to grab onto.
Attendees may not, however, have been trying to grab on or listening at all, so much as being in their own space, oblivious if still possibly influenced by their sonic surroundings. Put me in mind of the mythic days (before my time) when big, showy Hammond B-3 organs ruled at neighborhood corner taverns. As such, this solo synth show, orchestrally even more grandiose, felt like future jazz, present tense.
K-rAd aka Chris Grabowski is the expert soundman of the Green Mill, a jazz haven — his deft attentions have served not only an elite of U.S. musicians but also the Mill’s every-night, all year ’round audience. He understands the ebb and flow dynamic between performer and audience, but wasn’t doing anything specifically to shape his soundtrack beyond his own impulse/whim. “It nice to play here,” Grabowski said, “they seem to like it,” with a sweep of hand encompassing everyone in the joint, and he’s happy it’s a regular gig — he’s here every other months (“Someone else doing modular things on off-months, I think.”). It doesn’t advertise, though. K-rAd can most easily be found on Facebook, but is modest about upcoming appearances there, too.
He kept an eye on the room while focusing mostly with his ears on the waveforms coursing, modulating, filtered and reverberating at his fingertips’ not very dramatic patch, button-push and dial (sorry I didn’t take an inventory of Grabowski’s equipment, which he mentioned took more than two years of acquisition and construction, but it may be proprietary information, anyway). The nearly palpable physicality of electronic music, as I heard it, made the air kind of tingly. (But then, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time lately obsessed with a Korg Minilogue). My pals and I split a shrimp tempura, a flight of assorted sakes and can of Kikusui Aged Funaguchi. Yes, I’d go back.