A compilation of all the press from our 7/15/07 presentation of Zohar.

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT: MUSIC REVIEW

House simmers right to end

By Howard Reich, Published July 17, 2007

How fitting: Even for the final show in its longtime home, HotHouse made history, albeit in a somewhat peculiar manner.

On stage Sunday night, a genre-defying band called Zohar performed for the first time in Chicago. That the ensemble was led by Erran Baron Cohen — brother of “Borat” film star Sacha Baron Cohen — lent a peculiar tone to the proceedings, if only because of the actor’s famously bizarre screen personalities.

The Baron Cohen brothers bear uncanny facial and physical resemblance, so it was impossible to hear one without thinking of the other. Yet the music-making was top-notch, the house practically was filled and many in the crowd swayed to this irresistibly danceable music. If you didn’t know better, you might have thought the eclectic club on East Balbo Drive would continue to thrive through the ages (or at least for a few more months). But the internal dramas that roiled HotHouse starting last summer, when a newly constituted board forced out founder-executive director Marguerite Horberg, recently reached a climax. Last month, the board announced that the club would vacate the plush setting where HotHouse has thrived since 1998 (after several years in a decidedly less glamorous home on North Milwaukee Avenue).

The move, the board said in a statement, would settle a long-standing dispute with the landlord and provide an opportunity to regroup and address a cash shortfall. The goal would be to resurrect HotHouse elsewhere, at a still-to-be-determined date. “We’re looking for a space,” board President Linda Michaels said Sunday, while Baron Cohen’s ambient, heavily synthesized electronic music pulsed in the background. “But leaving here is bittersweet — it’s a beautiful space.” Not everyone believes it had to come to this. “It all could have been avoided, had these people [on the reconstituted board] resigned when we asked them to,” said Horberg, speaking by phone Sunday afternoon. Horberg had visited the room for the first time in about a year — to attend singer-pianist Yoko Noge’s farewell show — last week. “It was really wonderful in a lot of respects,” said Horberg, of the Noge soiree, “and quite upsetting in other regards.”

That same dichotomy defined the final night at the South Loop venue, for Baron Cohen’s spiritual music ennobled an otherwise funereal occasion. Though Baron Cohen cannot be considered a virtuoso as trumpeter or keyboardist, he’s a visionary in conceiving an innovative band. With ingenious use of samples from his laptop, Baron Cohen wove into the sonic fabric the cantorial chants of Hebraic liturgy, an ancient musical culture suddenly resonating in a jazz syntax.

Though the thick reverb eventually fatigued the ear, there was no denying the sensuousness of this music, which was presented by the Chicago-based KFAR Jewish Arts Center. Its director, Adam Davis, lamented the loss of this room. “Without a place like this,” said Davis, expressing a sentiment echoed by many small Chicago arts groups, “it’s very difficult for an organization like KFAR to present music.” Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune