Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Chicago Underground Quartet - Good Days (Astral Spirits, 2020)

Chicago Underground has assumed a number of guises over the years from duo to orchestra, all with cornet player and electronic musician Rob Mazurek at its center. This is an excellent entry in their discography, combining the accessibility of modern jazz with far reaching visions of free improvisation, synthesizers and electronics. This version of the band features Mazurek on piccolo trumpet, electronics and bells, Josh Johnson on synth bass, organ and piano, Jeff Parker on electric guitar and Chad Taylor on drums and percussion. The album was recorded in Long Beach in 2018 and 2019,  beginning with "Orgasm" a composition by Wayne Shorter's trumpeter brother Alan. The music develops a tight rhythm while allowing Mazurek's cornet to solo over the churning beat and create a powerful and far reaching performance. Thick bass and tight drums allow the cornet to reach out with the theme of the piece and then take off, gaining speed and agility as the performance develops into powerful improvisation, with scorching brass, and a free and potent response from his band mates. The music is rapid fire and bathed in electronics creating a wonderful and exciting sound.  "Batida" cranks heavy bass and light touch drumming to set the scene for soaring cornet, while taut guitar, thick bass and drums dredge out the bottom end. There is a light and agile beat to “Unique Spiral,” with flowing cornet along with guitar and space filling keyboards. The band creates a complex and alluring texture with rippling, echoing cornet, spare guitar and forthright sounding drums. The music arcs out under Mazurek's clarion call, soon answered by Parker's cool toned guitar along with fine drumming, keyboard and bass accents. "Westview" is a treat, one with slamming bass and drums along side harmonizing guitar and cornet. Parker's guitar shoots beams over the crisp beat, and the brass is gnarly and strangled by electronics, piercing like Dark Magus Miles, then riding on the loping bass and drums into battle. Taylor lays down a crushing beat, and Parker's guitar solo is well thought out, jabbing along side the heavy drum bombardment. These musicians have played together in different contexts for many years, and that sense of camaraderie and shared desire to explore imbues the strong and memorable music on this album. Good Days - amazon.com

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