‘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 Kuppersmith- bass fiddle, electronics; Jeff Parker- guitar, electronics.