Those familiar with the Sea and Cake and its affinity for pairing disparate elements (like sea and cake) might be mildly surprised by "Who's Your New Professor," the latest solo album from one of the Chicago band's guitarists, Sam Prekop. But once past the record's deceptively straightforward approach, they should love it. Certainly most of the small crowd that turned up to see Prekop at the Black Cat on Tuesday night were devotees of the Sea and Cake and maybe even of the band he led before that (Shrimp Boat).
The hour-long performance was airy, but it didn't lack for punch, especially in the rhythms of drummer Chad Taylor and the incisive electric-guitar interplay between Prekop and Archer Prewitt.
Prekop's first solo album (a 1999 self-titled set) moved away from the Sea and Cake's world-music strains by becoming occasionally clamorous; "Professor" simply floats and dreams, a strategy that worked remarkably well live. Prekop would pick the delicate, jazzy chords of songs like "Something" and "Chicago People," Taylor would rumble and shuffle while the amusingly placid Prewitt sliced jazzy crescendos or imitated organ runs with silky lines.
The band did break the dreamy shimmer with "The Company" and "Showrooms" from the first record, both of which worked up a sweat. But the dominant strain was found in tunes like the gorgeous "Between Outside," which glistened under Prekop's remarkably soulful and sensual -- for someone who looked like he had slept under a rock -- vocal melodies. That kind of understated grace lingered long after the jazzy intonations of the encore disappeared.
-- Patrick Foster