Jonathan Krohn and Ben Mjolsness were music-loving students at DePaul University a decade ago. "We would see each other out at shows," says Krohn. "We finally met in a photography class."
Ben played guitar. Jonathan played keyboard. They started a band initially called Male Model (they were wearing winter scarves one day and a friend said they looked like models) and then Male.
But Krohn and Mjolsness never pursued the traditional band concept. Improvisation was their gig. At the intersection of drone, rock, jazz and electronic, they create psychedelic ambience. Their long instrumentals swell and recede and, for a few minutes, suspend time.
After a half-dozen years, the duo were ready to end their musical project and move on with their lives.
"We were going to call it a day," says Krohn. "But we decided we wanted to document what we'd been doing for the past five or six years. We decided to go into the studio and make a record."
The result was All Are Welcome, a four-track, 30-minute musical journey that captures the signature Male sound. The disc showcases Male's broader connections to Chicago's free-jazz community, featuring members of Exploding Star Orchestra and Joan of Arc.
All Are Welcome hardly closed the book on a musical chapter in the lives of Krohn and Mjolsness. The recording generated buzz in the Windy City and interest from a record label. "The results were really exciting for us," recalls Krohn.
So Male endures. The duo recently morphed into a trio, adding Todd Mattei from Joan of Arc. The project continues to garner support from a rotating cast of Chicago musicians.
"A lot of the free-jazz guys don't get a chance to play in a group that's doing anything similar musically," says Krohn. "They like that it's a different avenue for them."
Male play their first Madison show at the Project Lodge on Dec. 19. "Our live shows are choreographed in a loose way," says Mjolsness. "But we still give ourselves ample room to move around."
"We think no two live shows should be the same," says Krohn."