How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
This is an interesting and varied session, one for which chief planner Rob Mazurek deserves no less than a solid "e" for effort. Mazurek, whose main ax is cornet, has plowed under his hard-boppin' roots and started afresh on a Playground that more closely conforms to his evolving musical perspective. Mazurek is accompanied on the odyssey by his Chicago Underground Orchestra, whose members double (or triple) to help provide the proper ambiance. In making the turnaround Mazurek has abandoned neither melody, harmony nor rhythm, and the band's hard-bop origins can also be discerned from time to time (as on guitarist Parker's neo-'60s charts, "Components Changes," "Jeff's New Idea" and "Whitney"). Mazurek, who wrote five of the tunes, seems more concerned with form and color than he is with splash or bombast. It's a trait that serves him well, as each of his compositions - including the waggish title selection - embodies enough engaging twists to assure one's heedfulness. Throughout, Rob and the band shrewdly employ uncommon elements - the sound of a glockenspiel or bamboo flute, for example - to accentuate their singular point of view. Everyone is on the same page, and those who fancy Jazz that veers slightly off the beaten path without self-indulgent cerebralism should find this picturesque Playground well-suited to whatever musical byways they might care to pursue.
Track Listing: Blow Up, Flamingos Dancing on Luminescent Moonbeams, Boiled Over, Le Sucrier Velours,
Components Changes, Playground, Jeff's New Idea, The Inner Soul of H, Whitney, Ostinato
Personnel: Robert Mazurek, cornet, bell, bamboo flute, toy trumpet; Jeff Parker, guitar, cowbell,
recorder; Sara P. Smith, trombone, glockenspiel, recorder, muffin tin, voice, cymbals; Chris
Lopes, bass, India flute, voice; Chad Taylor, drums, street sign; Johnny Herndon, bongos (on
Blow Up); Dan Bitney, congas (on Blow Up).