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Jazz Vs. The Chicago Underground Trio

The intrepid Chicago Underground Trio stretch jazz out of shape and then let it straighten them out.

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by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: October, 2007
The grid is going down, wires melting, transformers blowing in green clouds of deadly sparks.
by Alex V. Cook, Music Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: October, 2007
The grid is going down, wires melting, transformers blowing in green clouds of deadly sparks.

Being the music snob that I am, I've struggled with jazz, since along with blues and classical, its one of the staples of the snob diet, and I can appreciate some jazz though I lack a real jazz snob's devotion. When I look at the piles of reissues and decades of discs available, all those names and instruments, it's as daunting as trying to instantly become a baseball fan. Real fandom calls for the encyclopedic knowledge of coaches, players and positions and thickets of pedigrees, who played where with whom and when and why and I cannot muster the interest. I believe writing about music should be about the music and the listener, not the genealogies and resumes and mythologies of those making the music. Those things all have their place, but when you hit play, none of those things are really there, and what I like about jazz is he music is focused on the interplay, that those people right at that time and right at that place made this music and it was captured, not that so and so had a drug problem or that they once ate chili with Roy Hargrove. I want to hear what you can do and what you can become.

Chicago Underground Trio

Here we have the intrepid trio of Jason Ajemian on bass, Rob Mazuerek on cornet and electronics and Chad Taylor on percussion. There is a consuming sense of urgency throughout this record, like it's a message that needs to be transmitted now! Ajemain's extended bass solo that comprises the 'Initiation" is like a message transmitted form deep space, tapped out in microwaves. Taylor joins in on the continuum at the outset of "Resistance" not changing the bass' message, but augmenting it with its own information. It's an alert, a pre-strike, army of skeletons marching in advance of the troops, when all of a sudden at the three-minute mark, Mazuerek's echoed cornet emerges for the jungle, out of breath and nervous, trying to pant out the words it has come so far to deliver. This gets confounded by swarm of bees exiting a nearby vibraphone, and the rest of the band is quickly untied into creating a pulse, and finally the hum of the ether at the end. It's a beautiful way to get things started.

The thirty-minute "Power" is a thesis on just that, as the group dynamics rise like flood waters, growing choppier and deadlier with each inch, allowing you to watch the transformation in real time. A 8 minutes, it's a sweet calm post-bop jaunt, at 14 a tangle of chimes and at 20, an amazingly dense and effective demonstration of what happens when players of the highest caliber are sent through the dub echo canyon. The grid is going down, wires melting, transformers blowing in green clouds of deadly sparks.

A crisis is needed to demonstrate the collaborative mettle of any group, and "Crisis" does exactly that. the trio moves as a pack more on this track than on the others, their hushed footfalls creating a ground-shaking pulse amid the alien death rays coming from Mazurek's master console and Taylor's painterly cymbal work. As the song devolves into lonesome pulses issuing through the night, it leaves jazz behind like it's leaving the world behind. This is exploratory music without any of the "anchors aweigh" melodrama that one finds in most jazz-wise Cortez's and Magellan's.

"Transformation" underscores the effects of that journey, I that our intrepid explorers are no longer the panicked bohemians but are instead focused on the creation of sound, a chiming upward-climbing meander of blissful sound. "Transcendence" marks the eventual breakdown of that transformation, and the unstoppable human need to go full circle. Strains of the urgent melodiousness of "Initiation" creep into this magnificent demonstration of static tension. Taylor's drum kit and Mazurek's cornet emerge to take over at the halfway part, pitting a human howl against the mechanical existential repetition that had been previously set up, until they eventually squelch it at the end, reforming as the trio that appeared on "Resistance," sounding shockingly normal and collected in spite f the transformation process this record documents.

Traditionalists may balk at the use of effects and electronics throughout this record, and the streamlined brass-band funk of "Protest" from their 2004 album Slon may be more to their liking and that is fine, its perfectly natural and Slon is a great album, but I'm hard-pressed to think of any recent record that revels in the fearless pleasures of transcendence and seeing where group interaction can take you like Chronicle does.

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Alex V. Cook
Music Editor

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com

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