Heirs to Sun Ra’s legacy of creative music, the Chicago Underground Quartet provides proof of such honor with their self-named release. The Chicago Underground, be it in duo, trio or their present four-man lineup, cover open-ended creative music with feet planted in the avant-garde’s past and music’s future.
The band’s members shuffled between gigs in numerous groups including Tortoise, Isotope 217, Stereolab, Brokeback, and The Aluminum Group, to name a few. Their collective experience produces music readily copied by teen sensations Radiohead.
This disc, like the Underground’s prior recordings seem to revolve around cornetist/electronics Rob Mazurek organization, be it in duo (with Chad Taylor), in trio (add Noel Kupersmith) or quartet (with Jeff Parker). Mazurek, though not the leader of this session, certainly was its organizer. Like Sonny Blount, Mazurek assembled potent voices for maximum interactions. He also wields a cornet with a strong reference to Lester Bowie’s freedom principles.
This first Quartet record broadens the CU sound to a more diverse vision. The band has fully realized their concepts of modernism in the form of free jazz meet electronics and minimalism. For instance they spin out a repetitive guitar line and almost ambient tone on “Total Recovery” only to be juxtaposed by Mazurek’s sputtering cough of a cornet. Again they present a minimalist stepchild on “Wo Ist Der Kuchen” with perfect statements presented as counter, be it cornet, Taylor’s vibes, or Parker’s guitar.
This is not black-turtleneck-geek-snob music. There is plenty of beat driven pulses to motor life soundtrack here. From the opener “Tunnel Chrome” with its liquid rhythms to the drum frenzied “Welcome,” the CUQ proves they are about vibrancy through layering sound. They do so in constructing and deconstructing as on “Nostalgia,” where Parker bares his finest Derek Bailey impression against what could have been the Ornette Coleman Spy vs. Spy tribute band buried in the last 13 seconds of the record.
Like the former fellow Chicago residents known as Sun Ra’s Arkestra, the Chicago Underground Quartet are taking their musical performance to another level, beyond the expectations of their own generation. Also read Nils Jacobson’s review in the July 2001 issue of AllAboutJazz.