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Feb 10, 2010

Yoko Noge turns Thursdays blue

by Howard Reich - Chicago Tribune Arts critic
February 9, 2010
For nearly two decades, Monday nights in Chicago have belonged to Yoko Noge.

The ferocious singer-pianist – who fearlessly merges jazz, blues and Japanese folkloric music – was drawingcrowds to the old HotHouse, on North Milwaukee Avenue, in the early 1990s. More recently, she made Andy's Jazz Club, downtown on East Hubbard Street, a Monday-night magnet for anyone who values jazz classics turned inside out and Japanese music transformed by the spirit of raw Chicago blues.

But the Monday-night sessions have ended, with Noge and her constantly evolving Jazz Me Blues Band now thundering at Andy's on Thursday nights. Which feels a bit odd to Noge.

"Maybe it's a good thing to change, but it was a mixed feeling," says Noge, who's still quite a draw on Thursday nights.

"I have such attachment to Monday night, because I've been doing it for a long time. But I talked to my friends and people who love our band, and they said, 'Thursday is great – Monday night is tough for us to come.' "

The switch started in the New Year, and for a specific reason: Starting in June, Andy's will feature Jeff Lindberg's Chicago Jazz Orchestra every Monday night for the rest of the year. This greatly anticipated engagement, foreshadowed by a successsful CJO run last year at Andy's, forced scheduling changes at the club.

"Both the CJO and Yoko have huge fan bases," says Andy's general manager Jeff Chisholm. "So why not bring in both audiences on different nights of the week?"

Moreoever, breaking down the stage after a big band takes time, making it difficult to transition from the large ensemble to Noge's octet, which often expands to include guest musicians.

Regardless of the night of the week, Noge's music over the years has become increasingly intense and visceral in its expression. As songwriter, Noge has developed into a significant Chicago figure, her oft-howling vocals and sharp keyboard attacks pointing to an artist with an urgent message to convey. As always, her work is enriched by the contributions of veteran saxophonists Jimmy Ellisand Clark Dean (her husband), trombonist Bill McFarland, bassist Tatsu Aoki and guests such as trombonist Norman Palm and veteran blues singer-guitarist Jimmy Burns.

As for the Thursday-night crowd, Noge has noticed a change.

"The audience is kind of more 'up,' " says Noge, who during the day works as Chicago correspondent for the Japanese newspaper Nikkei.

"They're looking forward to the weekend. And that's probably also in me, too."

 

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