‘Chicago Underground’ is an overarching appellation for a myriad of projects under Rob Mazurek’s nominal leadership. Its various guises include Duo, Trio and Orchestra incarnations. Peripheral to these associations Mazurek and his partners also work together in a variety of other outfits including Isotope 217 and Tortoise. All of these groups demonstrate a penchant for electro-acoustic experimentation that has traceable roots in Fusion, but also draws liberally from modern electronics music influences. Real-time electronics and jazz-based, thematic improvisation are not always easy bedfellows and the music of these four players in trio setting demonstrates the problems that arise in trying to make the marriage work.Spartan rhythmic and harmonic fragments are commonly at the center of the compositions, but these stripped-down referents allow for a surprising variety of permutations. The group juxtaposes modal post-bop pieces freely with abstractionist and minimalist electronics forays throughout and while the interplay on the former tracks is often absorbing the latter ones often sound like slipshod experiments rather than fully fleshed musical statements. There are instances when they do work as on the disc’s centerpiece “Number 19,” where atonal organ noises evoke immediate images of Sun Ra behind his cosmic keyboard set-up. But the tracks tinted with various electronic accoutrements largely left an uncomfortable metallic residue in my ears and I was faced on more than one occasion with the urge to skip forward to the more acoustic dominated excursions. Part of this may be my own bias showing through, as my tolerance for electronics in improvisatory settings is often taxed quickly.
That being said, the interplay here between the four players often operates at peak levels. Mazurek’s ferrous cornet negotiates tightly packed ensemble sections and skeletally spaced solo interludes with equal facility, his high-register mute work on “A Lesson Earned” being just one of many examples. Through the creative use of overdubbing there’s even an opportunity for a trifold conversation with himself as three twining cornet lines spin a somber web on “ Arcweld.” Kuppersmith is accorded a similar turn on the harmonically ambiguous “504.” Each member of the group seems equally adept alone or in concert. Parker’s chimerical chords radiate between luminous lines and jangling, charged static, at times within the same piece, and Taylor and Kuppersmith rarely reside over the rhythm in a traditional sense preferring instead to cash in with currencies of elusive pulse and wavelength. While not surpassing their last Delmark record Possible Cube this new offering still delivers plenty of intriguing music.
Track Listing: Quail; Fahrenheit 451; Warm Marsh; Antiquity; Flamethrower; Woman In Motion; Triceptikon; A Lesson Earned; Arcweld; Elroy; Number 19; 504; The Tungflec Treaty; The World Has Changed; Elray.
Personnel: Rob Mazurek: cornet, electronics; Chad Taylor: percussion; Noel Kupersmith: bass fiddle, electronics; Jeff Parker: guitar, electronics.
I was first exposed to jazz when I discovered that one of Jimi Hendrix's influences was Wes Montgomery. I played guitar growing up and idolized Hendrix, so I knew that anyone he looked up to must be good
I was first exposed to jazz when I discovered that one of Jimi Hendrix's influences was Wes Montgomery. I played guitar growing up and idolized Hendrix, so I knew that anyone he looked up to must be good. I was 16 at the time. I went to Tower Records and purchased a CD by Wes, and I was hooked from the very first ten seconds. The sound of the song Lolita illuminated my bedroom, as I just sat back amazed at how colorful and soulful this music was--I understood it, even though at the time I didn't understand how to go about playing it. I get chills listening to Wes' solo on Lolita, and I can still listen to that song ten times in a row and never get tired of it. There is a truly timeless quality to genuinely spontaneous jazz music, and it is that quality that has inspired me to devote my life to studying and playing this music.