Chicago Underground Duo | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Chicago Underground Duo 

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In interviews cornetist Rob Mazurek has occasionally talked about his notion of "total music," an organic, uninhibited approach to jazz that sweeps up everything in its path, from bebop to African music to abstract electronica. With regular cohorts Jeff Parker (guitar), Noel Kupersmith (bass), and Chad Taylor (percussion), Mazurek has consistently employed jazz's improvisational impulse not just to jump from note to note but to slide between styles, genres, and even entire traditions, exploiting buried connections and subtle contrasts. Following this wide-open course, Synesthesia (Thrill Jockey), Mazurek and Taylor's new album as the Chicago Underground Duo, achieves a graceful, multidimensional synthesis, not a mere patchwork but an entirely new creation. On much of the record, electronics and studio manipulation greatly expand the duo's sonic palette and compositional reach: The abstract analog-synth gurgles that begin the thrilling opener, "Blue Sparks From Her, and the Scent of Lightning," soon give way to a lovely unison line for vibraphone and cornet, Mazurek's harmon-muted playing recalling the polyglot melodicism of Don Cherry; then overdubbed drum splatters and an urgent synth-bass ostinato kick in, driving the music ferociously, and Mazurek uncorks tuneful, circular, extroverted figures that sound like Leo Smith taking a stab at Moroccan trance music. "Threads on the Face" opens coloristically--Taylor teases delicate splashes of sound from his kit, and Mazurek squeezes out smears and squiggles reminiscent of Bill Dixon--but an abrupt edit sends the piece out on a hypnotic horn-and-vibes groove. Such shape shifting never sounds gratuitous, though, because even the most jarring studio splices arise from the logic of the music. Some of the album's tracks weren't meant to be duplicated live--according to the band's press, "Tram Transfer Nine" consists entirely of 11 different found sounds that Mazurek and recording engineer John McEntire digitally mixed and manipulated--but onstage this group is more than capable of fusing real-time performance and electronics, a feat that's not only technically impressive but integral to its panstylistic vision. John Herndon, best known as a percussionist with Isotope 217 and Tortoise, will DJ between sets. Saturday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Brad Miller.

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