Reviews

Critic’s Choice: Netup Cafe

Critic’s Choice:

Netup Café (formerly Bronzeville Coffee House)

By David Whiteis

 

Nestled unobtrusively into a compact row of small businesses on E. 43rd Street, the Netup bills itself as an “internet café” and “gourmet coffeehouse”, but its cozy atmosphere and organic ambience are devoid of the cyber-hipster snark those terms might imply: the menu (flavored coffees and teas along with fruit drinks, soups, and various healthy snacks and sandwiches) is written in chalk on blackboards behind the counter; the walls are lined with paintings by local artists; the hardwood floors gleam; and the seating consists of couches and comfy chairs arranged around tables as well as standard-issue cafeteria stools. When the weather is right, the back door opens onto a patio.

The entertainment schedule at the Netup varies (see their website, http://netupcafe.com, for updates), but one sure bet is Sunday afternoons from 1:00 – 3:00, when cellist Tomeka Reid and her ensemble hold forth. Reid, yet another of Chicago’s too-often unsung treasures, has developed an international reputation as both a composer and an improviser; the sound she creates with her group at the Netup, heavy on deep-toned sonorities and sparsely articulated stringwork (along with Reid’s cello, it includes string bass, acoustic guitar, and drums), invokes both tranquility and jubilance – perfect for Sunday in a neighborhood like this, where a lot of folks have probably dropped in on their way home from church. When Reid is unavailable, other equally gifted artists come by to take her place. On Oct. 14 at the Netup, violinist Renee Baker will be leading her string quintet (also augmented by drums), which she has culled from her groundbreaking Chicago Modern Orchestra Project. Baker’s stated mission with this ensemble is to “do cutting-edge music without the advantage of instruments like sax and trumpet that usually give a jazzy flavor.” To this end, she has intentionally recruited gifted improviser whose training and experience are not primarily in jazz to avoid the temptation of falling into the trap of what she calls “regurgitated riffs” and hot-licks jazz cliches. With her own electric violin blazing the trail, and her personalized hands-free conducting style keeping everyone on keel and alert, Baker’s group summons a daunting pallette of tones, colors, and textures, again managing to sound both exploratory and meditative.

It’s rare to encounter world-class music like this in a low-key neighborhood setting; it’s even rarer for it to be free of charge (although tipping is definitely encouraged). With luck, the Netup, with its innovative bookings and listener-friendly atmosphere, will soon transcend its current “well-kept secret” status and take its rightful place among Chicago’s important performance venues.

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