Chicago Underground Trio: Chronicle

Troy Collins By

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Accentuating the trio's vibrant performances with colorization, layered collages, dense textures and split-screen effects, [the filmmaker] becomes a virtual fourth member of the ensemble.
Chicago Underground Trio

Filmed at Chicago's German Cultural center, Chronicle presents the Chicago Underground Trio in a new light, literally. Cornetist/composer Rob Mazurek and percussionist Chad Taylor have been releasing projects under the banner of the Chicago Underground for almost a decade. While the line-up tends to vary in size, the core duo always remains. Here they are augmented by one—bassist Jason Ajemian, making his first recorded appearance with the group in more than just a supporting role.

Blending live performance footage with studio overdubbing and an array of psychedelic video effects, Chronicle is part concert performance, part art film, and a long way from Delmark's usual cinéma-vérité style of video documentation.

Director Raymond Salvatore Harmon films the members of the trio (all wearing white) against stark white walls, fusing context and text, canvas and content in this meta-representational experiment. The filmmaker projects moving images and light patterns on the musicians as they play, using post-production techniques for further manipulation of image and sound. Accentuating the trio's vibrant performances with colorization, layered collages, dense textures and split-screen effects, he becomes a virtual fourth member of the ensemble.

Recalling the abstract color field paintings of Mark Rothko viewed through the fractured lens of seminal video artist Stan Brakhage, Harmon bathes the trio in swatches of color and textural patterns that betray a modernist painting sensibility. As the trio modulates from one mood to another, Harmon follows suit: washing cool pastel blues and greens over them during bluesy, noir-inflected sections, he slows down the video speed, closing up on the action. During agitated sections he over-drives the resolution into blinding white with hot red and yellow accents, splitting the screen for dramatic effect. As the musicians intensify their performance, Harmon ups the ante in sympathy. Culminating in the torrential electronic meltdown of "Power," the director matches the music's careening intensity with a screen overrun by a kaleidoscopic splattering of color that coincides with the trio's frenetic free-jazz drumming, oscillating electronic feedback and throttling palpitations.

The concert plays out as an epic suite, moving gradually through distinct movements that vary in dynamic level. Kinetic tribal rhythms intermittently yield to introspective passages of euphonious melody and subtle interaction as the trio plays with sensitivity and ferocity in equal measure. Genres are evoked and dispatched with regularity: noir-ish atmospherics, jittery free jazz, gamelan-influenced minimalism, boisterous post-bop, sultry blues, anthemic post-rock—all materialize over the course of the performance.

Ajemian plays his upright with focused drive and an exploratory edge, bowing with lyrical finesse one minute, looping his pizzicato phrases through distortion pedals the next. Taylor alternates among trap set, vibraphone, marimba and mbira, with his vibes and marimba work acting as recurring harmonic lynchpins. His lengthy mbira excursion on "Transformation" is hypnotic in intensity, recalling the minimalist futurism of early Steve Reich and Phillip Glass. Mazurek plays his cornet open and muted, varying his attack from plangent motifs to splintery sheets of sound. But as often as Mazurek plays his cornet, he also coaxes and hammers out fragments on electric celeste and Moog, veering from subtle background ostinatos to hysterical waves of pitch-bend distortion.

One of the many highlights of seeing a live jazz performance is bearing witness to the minutiae of interaction among the musicians. Foreclosing this intimate perspective, most of the shots are at medium range, and even the close-ups are often visually distorted beyond recognition. But what the filming lacks in traditional performance conventions it makes up for in stylized delivery. A truly unique audio-visual experience, Chronicle is an intriguing blend of contemporary improvisation, forward-thinking video documentation, and genre-defying art.

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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