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Chicago / London Underground: A Night Walking Through Mirrors

Karl Ackermann By

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As an artist and a surveyor of a broader universe, Rob Mazurek focuses on the journey rather than on planting a flag in undiscovered territories. Whether on his multi-instrumental solo work Mother Ode (Corbett vs Dempsey, 2014) or in the large ensemble formation of his most recent Exploding Star Orchestra project, Galactic Parables: Volume 1 (Cuneiform, 2015), Mazurek has left his creative intuitions open to the influence of a deeply personal life force that often serves as his guide. More often than not, his music leads us to previously unimagined places as it does here on A Night Walking Through Mirrors.

The Chicago/London Underground is the latest of the variation of the "Underground" franchise. The collective had recorded as a quartet only on a self-titled 2001 outing (Thrill Jockey) but with the core of Mazurek and percussionist/electronics player Chad Taylor matched up with long-time colleague, guitarist Jeff Parker and veteran bassist Noel Kupersmith. On A Night Walking Through Mirrors we are treated to the outstanding UK pianist Alexander Hawkins whose solo and ensemble work, as well as that of the Convergence Quartet, have placed him in some very prestigious creative company. The other UK addition is bassist John Edwards whose work with cutting-edge artists such Peter Brötzmann, Wadada Leo Smith, and Mats Gustafsson, make him a perfect fit here.

Recorded live at London's Cafe OTO in spring of 2016, the setting is a perfect venue for creative arts. The four tracks are lengthy and probing, the shortest clocking in at more than fifteen minutes. Right out of the gate, the title track features Hawkins' torrent of notes in the midst of the spattering voice of Mazurek's cornet and Taylor's mbira, a type of thumb piano. Eventually, Mazurek lays a fragmented melody over the top, shifting the pace downward as he and Hawkins establish an open-ended, but tentative, dialog. "Something Must Happen" opens with electronics and Taylor's aggressive beat, nascent and raw, it sets in motion Mazurek's stately but distant melody. As the scene morphs, Hawkins and Mazurek engage in a surreal post-bop swirl, moving in and out of focus.

"Boss Redux" enters with an infectious rhythm from Edwards and Taylor, a nod to the Underground Duo piece "Boss" from Locus (Northern Spy, 2014). With Edwards' loopy bass as a jumping off point, Mazurek moves in pseudo-Latin directions accented with hard, choppy input from Hawkins. Like the other pieces on this album, this one exists in phases, imperceptibly moving from extreme dizziness to something more subdued and then to near silence. Mazurek's short, sharp blasts set up Edwards and Taylor's thorny introduction to "Mysteries of Emanating Light." The cornet emerges in a dissonant swing against Hawkins' flurry of ideas. Mazurek and Taylor enter a mbira-cornet duo before Mazurek launches into a wordless, evocative chant. Cornet and piano duel repeatedly from this point up to the quiet conclusion.

A Night Walking Through Mirrors has a decidedly un-curated feel to it. As the title implies, there is a ghostly quality to the music, even as it imposes alternately raw and supple emotions. At the heart of ear-bending configurations the sound remains self-assured and expressive; the life of the music resides in the larger world, where ego is left behind.

Track Listing: A Night Spent Walking Through Mirrors; Something Must Happen; Boss Redux; Mysteries of Emanating Light.

Personnel: Rob Mazurek: cornet, sampler, electronics, voice; Chad Taylor: drums, mbira and electronics; Alexander Hawkins: piano; John Edwards: double bass.

Title: A Night Walking Through Mirrors | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records

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