Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor regroup once again for their fourth album as the Chicago Underground Duo and ninth under the Chicago Underground moniker. The project has varied in size from duo, trio and quartet to orchestra, but the core of Mazurek and Taylor have always been its heartbeat. Utilizing occasional overdubbing and tastefully augmented post-production, In Praise of Shadows is their most stylistically varied and sonically dense recording.
Taking the title from Junichiro Tanizaki's early-20th Century essay of the same name, Mazurek and Taylor investigate the expressive possibilities of light and shadow in relation to the aesthetics of art in an ever-changing world. Tanizaki's view of the Japanese lifestyle was one of reactionary resignation to the inevitable advances of technology and its effects on traditional culture. Mazurek and Taylor expound on this concept by blending primal ritual with modernist experimentation.
Opening the album with delicate Milesian flourishes from Mazurek's cornet and a glacially paced backbeat bolstered by Tortoise-like vibraphone accents, "Falling Awake" is a resplendent assimilation of styles. The vaguely minimalist repetition of the shimmering, gamelan-inspired "The Glass House" is dazzling in its textural intricacies and subtle harmonic complexity. They even dabble in a bit of electroacoustic globetrotting with an energetic percussive excursion on the sprightly "Funeral of Dreams." "Cities Without Citadels" goes a step further, prominently featuring Taylor's recent fascination with tribal rhythms. A driving march-like cadence sets Mazurek off on a furious call to arms with a clarion cornet screed, his most fervent solo on the record.
The free-form AACM-inspired title track and "The Light in Between" display the duo's finely tuned, seemingly telepathic interactive skills on pieces of remarkable understatement. "Pangea" is the album's darkest moment, recalling Mazurek's meltdown finale on his recent Mandarin Movie project, a rising wall of sustained feedback and electronic noise.
In Praise of Shadows represents a marked step forward for the duo. Using an expanded instrumental arsenal and a variety of stylistic approaches, they have opened a new chapter in their discography. With a decade worth of albums to their credit under the banner of the Chicago Underground, Mazurek and Taylor prove they have plenty of room left to explore with this project.
Track Listing: Falling Awake; In Praise of Shadows; The Glass House; Cities Without Citadels; Pangea; Funeral of Dreams; The Light in Between.
Personnel: Rob Mazurek: cornet, organ, celeste, piano, prepared piano, harpsichord, noise box, moogerfooger analog delay, ring modulator; Chad Taylor: drums, cymbals, mbira, gongs, percussion, vibraphone, prepared vibraphone.