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In the music spotlight: Tortoise

BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

Chicago’s influential post-rock quintet Tortoise performs the first hometown shows of its 26th year on Saturday, supporting its first new record in nearly seven years. Arriving Friday, “The Catastrophist” is the band’s seventh full-length album.

The lengthy period since “Beacons of Ancestorship” can perhaps be attributed to the stature of the band and the demand created for individual members and group alike. There have been side projects like soundtrack work for Eduardo Sanchez’s psychological thriller Lovely Molly in 2011.

Bassist and guitarist Doug McCombs revisited to his Brokeback project for 2013’s acclaimed “Brokeback and the Black Rock,” highlighted by a performance at Pritzker Pavilion with U2 producer Daniel Lanois. McCombs also made three albums with Chicago-based alt-rock heroes Eleventh Dream Day.

Drummer John McEntire continued work as a sought-after producer and recording engineer at his Soma Studios, while releasing and supporting “The Moonlight Butterfly” and “Runner” with local jazz-influenced indie-rockers The Sea and Cake. Guitarist Jeff Parker released the album “Bright Light in Winter” and continued a string of avant-garde collaborations.

The band’s current activity remains centered on challenging, uncategorizable instrumental music that draws from jazz, rock, reggae, hip-hop, electronica and new wave. “At Odds with Logic” is a fitting song title from “The Catastrophist.” The album features a pair of vocal-led songs including a deconstructed, Krautrock interpretation of David Essex’s downtempo 1973 hit “Rock On” sung by guest vocalist Todd Rittmann of U.S. Maple.

The saturated synthesizers heralding first single “Gesceap” give way to odd-time signature drumming, Afropop guitar and hypnotic ostinatos that unfold over seven undulating minutes. McEntire says in the band’s press release that the track reflects the live aesthetic that fans will experience this weekend at Thalia Hall. The song originated as part of a suite commissioned by the City of Chicago, inspired by a rich improvisational music scene on home territory.

* Tortoise, 6:30 p.m. and 10:15 p.m., Jan. 23, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport. (17+over; sold out); thaliahallchicago.com.

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.