Active Ingredients | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Active Ingredients 

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Before he split for New York last year, Chad Taylor, the drummer who anchors the various Chicago Underground groups, was one of the most elegant and open-minded percussionists in town. In every context, from one-off gigs with Dutch reedist Sean Bergin to playing pop behind the Sea and Cake's Sam Prekop to his regular work with local tenor men Fred Anderson and David Boykin, he finds ways to fit in without compromising the traits that make him great. Taylor understands the value of restraint, but he also has an impeccable sense of swing, and no matter how much he pulls back, he never lets a groove disintegrate. Although he still works closely with Chicago Underground cornetist Rob Mazurek when they're on the same side of the equator (Mazurek moved to Brazil last year), he's got a full plate in NYC, where he's tapped into an underground scene whose DIY ethos is not dissimilar to Chicago's. His new quartet, Active Ingredients, includes youngish self-starter Tom Abbs--the guiding force behind the Brooklyn multidisciplinary arts collective Jump Arts--on bass and veterans Jemeel Moondoc and Steve Swell on sax and trombone. Taylor's themes are folksy and sometimes reference spirituals the way Albert Ayler's did, but they're always loose, and his contrapuntal arrangements set the horn players dancing prettily around each other. Moondoc, a Chicago native who's been enjoying a comeback since the late 90s thanks to the efforts of the Eremite label, has never been the most precise alto player; his post-Ornette take on melody doesn't always make intonation a priority, and on a live CD-R I have by the group, he sometimes sounds a bit lost. But Swell is a magnificent trombonist, whether swinging hard or shooting freely into the stratosphere; he can be garrulous or silky, lyrical or brash. Like Taylor, Abbs is exceptionally tasteful and supportive. Both rhythm players use their solo space wisely--they're ensemble minded first and foremost. The group is in town to record its debut album, to be released by Delmark later this year; these gigs are its first in Chicago. Friday and Saturday, July 5 and 6, 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 21281/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050.


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