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Film Review

Chicago Underground Trio: Chronicle


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Chicago Underground Trio

This DVD marks a break with precedent for Delmark in terms of its content. Whereas their previous titles have documented live performances in the raw with little in the way of visual stimulus outside that of the musicians working, this one is lent a contemplative air through the visual input and direction of Raymond Salvatore Harmon, a man who, if the evidence here is anything to go by, is better than attuned to the idiosyncratic sound world of a group whose music is arguably as informed by latter-day electronica as it is by anything closer to the jazz continuum.

The project's success on the purely visual level is testimony to Salvatore's exceptional empathy with the music; it's almost as if he went to the trouble of learning all of its subtleties and nuances before making any contribution of his own. His combination of footage shot from a moving vehicle and superimposed over footage of the group playing in real time enhances the overall effect without calling undue attention to itself. The same is true of his more prominently featured digital washes of colour, and such is the slightly disorienting level of visual and audio elements that the former seems to be in permanent service to the latter. The results make for a program with a slightly meditative edge even in the music's most frenetic moments, when for example Rob Mazurek shows the degree to which he has absorbed Don Cherry's cornet playing and incorporated it into his own distinct musical personality.

At some twenty-eight minutes "Power" makes up a significant part of the program, but its very duration offers ample evidence that this is a group with an acute grasp of dynamics, even if at a different time and in a different place the piece wouldn't suffer with some editing. That grasp is nowhere more evident than in the work of Chad Taylor who, along with Hamid Drake and Kahil El' Zabar, is one of a trio of Chicago-based drummers refining the advances of the past while shaping them for the future. Bassist Jason Ajemian is a potent force here as well, showing how he's more than equal to the task of letting the music breathe. He climbs all over the instrument when the music demands it but keeps ego in check in the service of the group—both a mandatory requirement and an achievement in itself.

The combination of ancient and modern might best sum up what this disc has to offer. In their embracing of traditions, Taylor's use of an mbira alongside the trio's adaptation of many contemporary developments in music testifies to the ensemble's breadth of scope. The inclusiveness is in a sense amplified rather than merely documented by Harmon's visual input. The result is much more than a visual record of a gig, not that there is anything inherently wrong with such an approach. This marriage of media, however, is something else, namely a work in which a meeting of creative minds has resulted in something not only innovative and unique but exemplary of what the relatively new DVD format could have been designed for.

Tracks: Initiation; Resistance; Power; Crisis; Transformation; Transcendence.

Personnel: Rob Mazurek: cornet, computer, moog source, electric celeste, Chinese cymbal, bamboo flute, moogerfooer pedals; Chad Taylor: drum kit, vibraphone, marimba, mbira, assorted percussion; Jason Ajemian: acoustic bass, electronics.

Production Notes: Running time 75 minutes. Recorded at 24 bit/96kHz High Resolution Audio live July 31, 2006 at DankHaus, Chicago's German Cultural Center, by engineer Todd Carter, directed by Raymond Salvatore Harmon.

Extras: Abstractions: Transcendental Landscapes by Raymond Salvatore Harmon; Chronolight Multiples by Rob Mazurek; Randomness by the CU Double Trio; Selected Discography.

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