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Chicago Underground Duo: Two Voices, One Sound

By Published: April 3, 2006
AAJ: You recorded this album pretty recently—just last August in Chicago. When you went into the studio, what did you have in terms of ideas and compositions?

RM: I think it's always nice not to have a notion of what you want to do in a way, but then what's your reason for recording? We don't make a record just to make a record. We go in when we think we have enough ideas in order to make something that's valid to us that we want to project for other people.

But I think as we got closer to the actual recording session, we discovered that we were both thinking more in line to what we had done on the first record, on 12 Degrees of Freedom—so we kind of pursued that angle on the actual recording rather than what we did on Axis & Alignment, where we started to bring in more and more technological things. I'd been doing some programming on the computer and working with electronics, so I'd been pushing in that direction.

You know, if we had recorded 12 Degrees of Freedom this last year, it would have sounded completely different than the original recording—but not so different. I think we were able to step out of the shell a little more easily now. With 12 Degrees of Freedom, you're inside the body, inside the shell. With this new record, instead of pushing the technological aspects of trying to push out, we were trying to push out away from the actual physicality of playing—maybe trying, without sounding pretentious, to push out into another zone of consciousness. Just two humans hitting and playing things, but expressing things in a certain way to where a certain light maybe pushes out through the bodies, creating one light.

I don't mean that to sound like we're so great; it's just that's my impression of it. It doesn't have to do with being good or not. That's how it felt. The recording session felt like that.

AAJ: Well, that sounds like a good feeling.

RM: Yeah. That track "In Praise of Shadows, all ten minutes or so, was just magic, and I remember that actually we discarded that in our original plans for the record. But because of circumstances, we were able to really think about the stuff for a few months before we decided what to use, and all of a sudden that one came back like a steamroller.

CT: We had a lot of ideas. And actually, a lot of the time we spent [laughing] was just getting rid of ideas! Because we waited so long—I forget how many years it'd been since the last one, but we had all sorts of ideas. And a lot of it was just trial and error; we'd go through different things that we had and some of them we recorded and some we didn't. And a lot of the stuff we recorded—after listening back to it we were just like, "no, this doesn't work for trying to put a cohesive tune together.

AAJ: Let's talk about individual pieces on the CD. The opening track is "Falling Away, which is really beautiful. Of everything on the record, it's the most traditional song, and it really feels like an opening prayer, an invocation for what follows before we're drawn into the deep interior. This is Chad on vibes and cymbals, percussion, and Rob on cornet. This is a composed piece?

CT: Yeah. It's a piece that I composed. It's only about two minutes long. I wrote a series of pieces like that and that one just turned out to be the best one, the one that we decided to use. I didn't have the melody written; I just had the chord voicings and the drum part and then Rob came up with the melody. We recorded it, it sounded good and we decided that that would be a good way to start the record.

RM: The vibes part that Chad's playing is an example of a new idea that he brought into the studio. I heard it as an impressionistic kind of trajectory that he was getting at—no melody, just that little vibes harmony line. That was also probably one or two takes, and we took the first take. I think that's what Chad's intention was—to sound like a kind of prayer or meditation. It's an opening proclamation, but it's calm, tranquil. The stuff I play on it is certainly melodic and it's an improvisation off of Chad's ideas.

AAJ: The next tune is the title track, "In Praise of Shadows. This, to me, is a pretty central piece on the CD. It follows its own improvised logic. It's a long piece and there's a real sense of ritual to it, of process.

RM: I really didn't think of that, but that sums it up really well. I think when we play in general, it's ritualistic; it's not in any way or form trying to pull attention to ourselves, if you know what I mean. Maybe it's what a ritual really is—it's a group feeling that you're trying to either project out or in. That tune certainly has those qualities.

I think we both have this spirituality about things—that being able to step back, like I say, from the actual ego of playing an instrument, whether you're virtuosic or not. I certainly don't think I am. I don't think Chad is either—except when he plays certain rhythms. Or maybe he is and maybe I am, I don't know. But I agree with what you said: it's extremely ritualistic in the most honest way. I hope that doesn't sound arrogant!

CT: We did a bunch of improvised pieces. We had, I think, three days of just recording. That particular piece was the first thing that we recorded that was improvised, and we sort of overlooked it: we originally weren't going to put it on the record. We came back and listened to it and it just sounded really organic and interesting to us, so we decided to put it on there. Rob is going through different instruments and I think I play drums on the whole thing.

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