Chicago Underground Trio | Chronicle

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Chronicle is not a CD of free jazz.

It's a live recording of the Chicago Underground Trio with its new bass player, Jason Ajemian, in a series of six live improvisations.

As far as free jazz goes, this trio isn't limited to one style.

In fact, free jazz, African, Moog and computer sounds are combined within the trio's pliant, advanced blues sensibility.

We also notice that this trio aims to play a fluid and coherent music, a kind of changing fabric of sound.

Bassist Ajemian immediately pulls us into "Initiation" with his percussive, snapping, bass-rattling, chordal introduction. Cornetist Rob Mazurek enters Harmon-muted, pesky, and chromatic. Chad Taylor's vibraphone, marimba, mbira, and percussion add even more color to the already varied sounds in his drum kit.

At times, it's hard to say who's playing what, and the message over these 6 tracks, it seems, is that it doesn't matter. The evolving, improvised composition — the total sound of it — is what matters. I'm with that.

These musicians clearly respect the past — and they're consciously building on it — but they're equally clear-eyed about today and the future.

These are essentially melodic and good-natured players who love to play acoustically amidst large patches of composed electronic atmospheres. If there's a dark side to their music, it often ends up in these arresting electronic sections.

I have to say the Chicago Underground Trio plays a lot of sound and has a lot of ideas.

For example, in the airy and abstract piece, "Resistance" — which ends with an easy-going drum extravaganza of mostly brushes, sock cymbals, soft mallets, and hands — a round-toned pizzicato bass line emerges and, without a pause, drives us on into the next piece — "Power".

We understand that a bass line is what connects "Resistance" and "Power", as well as, I suspect, some volume enhancement done in the editing booth. Clearly, this trio is game to try different things in a recording, as long as it serves the music.

"Power" is also a good example of the trio's fascination with sound texture — acoustic and electronic — where Mazurek's breathy cornet slowly trills in low and high registers; where the surrounding group sound (I think electronically diffused) was like being inside a melodiously plucking and resonating giant mbira; where these pointillistic plucks, almost scattershot, define the music's very open space.

Then — in a split second — an electronic avalanche engulfs the listener for 8 minutes. In this pouring, intense environment there's evidence, glimpses, of a flickering, alive acoustic space.

It's odd — but once again appropriate — that on a 'processed' and vocalized, repeating blues line (sounds like synthesized trumpet or guitar) this on-the-spot composition would gradually fade out.

It's so nice to hear a group that's focused on imagining things in the acoustic and electronic domains — a group that also works out of a deep knowledge and respect for the jazz tradition.

I recommend you listen to the Chicago Underground Trio. Above all, hear them out.

by David Fujino August 2007

The tracks
1. Initiation (5:23) 2. Resistance (7:43) 3. Power (28:27)
4. Crisis (13:20) 5. Transformation (5:22) 6. Transcendence (13:43)

Recorded Live at The German Cultural Center, Chicago, July 31, 2006 by Todd Carter

The musicians
Rob Mazurek — cornet, computer, Moog source, electric celeste, gong,
Chinese cymbal, bamboo flute, moogerfooger pedals
Jason Ajemian — acoustic bass, electronics
Chad Taylor — drum kit, vibraphone, marimba, mbira, assorted percussion
We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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