In 2014, Kaki King mounted an innovative journey through sight and sound, calling her guitar-centric show “The Neck is a Bridge to the Body.” The concert made its Chicago debut at Lincoln Hall in early 2015. As King heads toward the release of new music in 2018, she gives local fans a final opportunity experience the senses-expanding presentation of the evolved concept. More than merely an instrumental concert performance, the set spins a narrative arc spanning creation, identity and impermanence even as King herself recedes into the arctic white of the stage dressing. She allows her acoustic guitar to speak through dazzling displays of psychedelic color and thrilling fingerstyle technique that occasionally nods to other instrumental mavericks including Preston Reed.
Despite her prowess, King has claimed the student’s role with the guitar itself as teacher. This relationship is explored sonically in songs like the meditative “We Did Not Make the Instrument, the Instrument Made Us” and the howling catharsis of “Battle is a Learning.” The song cycle of “The Neck is a Bridge to the Body” begins with the primordial and resolute “In the Beginning.” Slides, springing scrapes and clattering knocks on the guitar during “Thoughts are Born” suggest surging ignition and the rush to fill a vast void with abundant life.
The “Trying to Speak” suite found King collaborating with New York string quartet Ethel. For her upcoming album “Live at Berklee,” King expanded this fusion of iconoclastic and classical sounds by arranging material as a visiting artist with the Porta Girevole Chamber Orchestra under the direction of student conductor Gabriela Sofia Gomez Estevez.
The new recording takes earlier compositions like “Neanderthal” and imbues them with the bristling energy of the live setting. Although fundamentally unique, King’s acrobatic arpeggios show affinity for late master Michael Hedges. “That song is sort of an exploration of the fear and tension that comes with awareness of your own self,” said King, in a 2015 Sun-Times interview. “I don’t think my dog has those problems.”
King plays shimmering, glasslike acoustic tones during “Fences” from 2013’s “Glow” album, but moves the melody to Kaya Meller’s trumpet where it becomes more lyrical and sorrowful. Whirlwinds of strings and woodwinds deepen the emotional impact.
King’s singular guitar playing merits many adjectives – melodic, rhythmic, fluid, propulsive, delicate or muscular. Although these qualities are heard in abundance on her records, they’ll be amplified at City Winery by the risk and adrenaline of performance.
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.