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Chicago Underground Duo: Locus

Troy Collins By

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For over 17 years Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor have collaborated as the Chicago Underground Duo, a long-running partnership that has served as the core foundation for larger configurations of the group, including Trio, Quartet and Orchestra. The expansive nature of the ensemble's fluctuating personnel and the subsequent diversity of music produced has been a direct reflection of the founding members' varied interests and ensuing career paths.

Mazurek's reputation as a bold electro-acoustic sound sculptor is well established, but belies the fact that his fundamentals as a cornetist lie in traditional hard bop—a robust foundation for his increasingly adventurous approach towards composing and improvising. Taylor has also worked in scenes beyond jazz, most notably as a drummer for popular indie rock acts like Iron & Wine and Sam Prekop. Sharing a similarly probing aesthetic, Mazurek and Taylor disavow stylistic constraints, following their muse wherever it takes them.

On Locus, their seventh recording as the Duo, they delve further into disparate traditions than ever before. The session's nine singularly concise tunes encapsulate an all-inclusive world-view, embracing the futuristic innovations of electronica and the primordial allure of ethnic folk forms in equal measure. The titular opener unveils a surging undercurrent of throbbing breakbeats and reverberating synth, drawing salient comparisons to the concurrent efforts of the pair's post-rock peers. Conversely, the traditional Ghanaian tune "Yaa Yaa Kole" evokes the ebullience of classic Afropop in the form of a lyrical brass and percussion duet, augmented by the hypnotic refrains of balaphone and mbira. Recalling the AACM's maxim "Ancient to the Future," the vibrant electro-acoustic hybrid "Kabuki" blurs the line between past and present, juxtaposing infectious contrapuntal rhythms with skirling fanfares inspired by the dramatic arcs of classical Japanese theater.

Symptomatic of its eclecticism, the album's cutting edge production establishes a much stronger connection to popular music than the average modern jazz release. Engineered by John McEntire at Chicago's Soma Electronic Studio, the aggressive audio mix occasionally peaks into the red, emblematic of contemporary recording trends. "House of the Axe" is indicative, alternating between ambient synth swells and speaker-rattling downbeats. "Borrow and Burry," on the other hand, revels in timeless abstraction, with ghostly bamboo flute and scrabbling acoustic guitar underpinned by ominous synth drones.

Conceptually arriving full circle, the date ends with the brief but episodic "Dante." The aptly titled sonic travelogue charts an intrepid course from earthy variations to otherworldly extrapolations, culminating in an ethereal coda that summarizes the record's sweeping dynamic range in miniature. Locus seamlessly incorporates myriad genres, ranging from polyrhythmic swingers and avant-garde divertissements to cinematic soundscapes and impressionistic tone poems. On the eve of their second decade performing together, Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor demonstrate that there are ample sound worlds left for the Chicago Underground Duo to explore.

Track Listing: Locus; Boss; The Human Economy; Yaa Yaa Kole; House of the Axe; Borrow and Burry; Blink Out; Kabuki; Dante.

Personnel: Rob Mazurek: cornet, synth, Game Boy, electronics, bamboo flute, voice; Chad Taylor: drums, mbira, guitar and balaphone.

Title: Locus | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Northern Spy


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