Chicago Underground Trio: Chronicle (2007)
The Chicago Underground Trio is more of an idea than a group per se. With albums being put out by an ever-changing group of musicians over the last decade-and-a-half, carrying the torch as the Chicago Underground implies a commitment to pushing boundaries; be it sonic boundaries, or the boundaries that could inhibit a trio creating live music, the Chicago Underground is constantly presenting music that is innovative, new and, without a doubt, boundary-breaking.
Chronicle, the trio's first all freely improvised album, begins with a droning, simplistic bass solo from Jason Ajemian that lasts for the full five-plus minutes of, "Initiation." Ajemian hangs on to chordal riffs and short phrases like a chant. It takes a certain mental peace of mind as a performer to deliver an extended solo and resist the temptation of muscle memory and virtuosic prowess. Ajemian does just that, laying in the pocket of his free improvisation, and allowing what was most elegant to sing for itself.
Suddenly, drums crash into the foray on "Resistance." Ajemian continues his simplistic, chanting bass work, while drummer Chad Taylor contributes a fierce second layer. Trumpeter Rob Mazurek finally enters the sonic arena with a flurry of reverb-infused notes that finally breaks down to the sound of marimba and assorted percussion interplay between the three members of the band, as Mazurek puts his horn down and plays a Chinese cymbal.
Chicago Underground has always been about finding some kind of groove and taking it to work. On "Power," the trio morphs from a soft, contemplative theme, shared between Taylor's mallet work and Ajemian's arco bass, into a shoulder-popping Afro-centric pulse, to which Ajemian quickly responds with an accompanying bass line. Again, Mazurek joins the ensemble like the capstone of an arch, the third and final element to complete the structure as a unit. Taylor delivers a short but timbrally interesting mbira solo. Another element brought into play is the use of electronically generated sounds, a tour de force of buzzing and whirring that eventually drones out the acoustic instruments, basking in an ethereal soundscape. Mazurek can be heard playing a bluesy lick in the background, while switching an effects pedal on and off as he repeats the same phrase over and over. The band breaks down towards its first moment of complete silence in the live performance thus far, with a gentle duet between Mazurek and Ajemian that hints at being contrapuntal.
The rest of the album consists of improvisation on the order of electronic sonic exploration. "Crisis" has the kind of synthesized thump expected from a house DJ's turntable. "Transformation" is one long sonic build, with Taylor creating a steady undercurrent of delicate song on mbira. With the closer, "Transcendance," the trio returns to the acoustic setup begun on the album, with a fierce groove underneath Mazurek's chants on his dry trumpet, as if to celebrate the sonic spiritual journey that has just been undertaken.
Track Listing: Initiation; Resistance; Power; Crisis; Transformation; Transcendence.
Personnel: Rob Mazurek: cornet, computer, Moog source, electric celeste, gong, Chinese cymbal, bamboo flute, Moogerfooger pedals; Chad Taylor: drum kit, vibraphone, marimba, mbira, assorted percussion; Jason Ajemian: acoustic bass, electronics.
Record Label: Delmark Records