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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Chicago Underground Trio - Chronicle (Delmark, 2007) ****

The Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Quartet has two stable members : Rob Mazurek on cornet and Chad Taylor on percussion. Jeff Parker played guitar in previous configurations and Noel Kupersmith was the regular bass-player, but for this trio he is replaced by Jason Ajemian. This is not what you would call a real trumpet/bass/drums trio, because each musician has an assortment of additional instruments, from the very simple such as a bamboo flute, an mbira or a Chinese cymbal to the more complex electronics, computer of moogerfooerpedals. The album is the chronicle of a transformation in six steps : Initiation, Resistance, Power, Crisis, Transformation and Transcendence. And the music evolves along those steps. "Initiation" is a bass solo, on "Resistance" the percussion starts bringing counterweight to the bass, first with light percussion, then marimba, then electronics until the bass stops, followed by the percussion and only the electronics remain. "Power" begins with light arco bass, marimba and light percussion, rolling on to menacing drumming, first without apparent rhythm, then very rhythmically, with a hard pulsing bass adding power to the playing, offering a solid foundation for the muted cornet sounds of Mazurek, now light and sensitive, then chasing hard, evolving into a quiet bluesy melody, which in terms of trumpet style holds the middle between Lester Bowie and Don Cherry, moving on to light percussion again, an almost-lullaby like melody so fragile and joyful it sounds, soon to die in an electronic chaotic drone of about five minutes, and then you think "that's it, we've had it", but no, out of this chaos emerges a lightly dancing melody of trumpet, arco bass and mbira, the real finale of a track which lasts close to half an hour. And it goes on like that for the rest of the album. The band takes its time to discover the music, to transform it, to think of new angles, but the overall structure is essential, this is free improv along fixed paths. This is avant-garde jazz or experimental jazz, but then with soul. And you can hear this soul at best in the last piece "Transcendence", that unleashes all power with a manic repetitive rhythm, with Mazurek's cornet creating wonderful melodies above this hypnotic drone of bass and drums. This music is probably not to everyone's taste, but the way this band explores new musical avenues is really fantastic to hear and highly commendable. Mazurek suprised us earlier this year with his great album with The Exploding Star Orchestra, but this one is equally brilliant.

Below you can view and extract from the promo video of the accompanying DVD ("Transcendence"):