Chicago Underground Duo – Locus (2014)

Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor’s deft application of lo-fi electronics to out-jazz has been celebrated here a few times, and Locus, their second release with Northern Spy Records, is another reason to celebrate.

As it always has been, the choice of instruments provides some insight into their penchant for finding and using any source for music, without bias toward acoustic or electric; First World or Third World. Sure, Mazurek plays cornet and Taylor plays the drums, but they’ve also tapped the exotic sounds of m’bira, analog synths, guitar, bamboo flute, voice, laptop-generated electronic, balaphone and even a game boy.

Some of these unconventional weapons weren’t deployed for the Age of Energy (2012), so that’s one difference from their prior album. There are also shorter, more numerous songs, with most of them at radio-friendly length, but hardly a radio-friendly sound. Still, the basic plot of stimulating electro-acoustic prog-jazz remains the same.

“Locus,” the song that kicks it all off, doesn’t even included Mazurek’s cornet. Instead it’s a swirl of lo-fi synths around Taylor’s resolute beat. The horn debuts on “Boss,” riding over Taylor’s racing cymbals, loose snare and a two chord synth riff, as the synth drone becomes a buzz.

CUD’s 21st century outlook on world fusion comes to the fore with a take on the Pan African Orchestra’s “Yaa Yaa Kole,” where artificial/organic African rhythms, multiple-dubbed horns and Taylor on what must be a balaphone run through an FX pedal. Mazurek’s thoughtful muted cornet provides a jazz context. The tricked up balaphone re-emerges on “Kabuki,” featuring a primitive beat that you’re practically invited to chant along to, and also sounding a little like another one of Mazurek’s projects, the Sao Paulo Underground.

As a percussion specialist, I was interested to hear how Taylor would sound on guitar. During “Borrow and Burry” Taylor plays it like a percussion instrument, scraping and plucking the strings and amid the spooky synthesizer pulses, sometimes even evoking Derek Bailey. There’s an eerie calm of “House of the Axe,” too, but it soon gets disrupted by Taylor’s booming, scattered beats.

“Blink Out” might be the most catawampus thing on the album, as Mazurek loops, doubles, samples and does other kinds of kooky things with his cornet. And then to remind you that musicianship still matters greatly with CUD, he issues an urgent, taut solo.

Set for release March 25, 2014, Locus carries forward a fifteen-plus year quest by the Chicago Underground Duo to successfully marry exotic sounds with fundamentally sound performances.

[amazon_enhanced asin=”B002WSCGAK” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B0074A00WM” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00004T1NW” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B000DNVTFO” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00000DF6U” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00005Y0LW” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00BX49BXE” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B00HVF11XM” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B002TJ68JC” /] [amazon_enhanced asin=”B005GEPSFW” /]

Here are the dates and places for an upcoming tour by CUD:

04/16/14 Chicago – Hideout
04/17/14 Champagne, IL – Krannert Art Museum/Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
04/18/14 Urbana, IL – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne
04/18/14 Lexington, KY – Natasha’s
04/19/14 Harrisburg, PA – The Sanctuary @ Second City Church
04/20/14 Washington, DC – Bohemian Caverns
04/21/14 Brooklyn, NY – Baby’s All Right
04/22/14 Philadelphia, PA – Boot and Saddle
04/23/14 Baltimore, MD – Windup Space
04/24/14 Louisville, KY – Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft
04/25/14 St. Louis, MO – Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center
04/26/14 Iowa City, IA – Trumpet Blossom
04/27/14 Dubuque, IA – Eronel
04/29/14 Kalamazoo, MI – Wesley Foundation
04/30/14 Detroit, MI – Trinosophes – New Detroit Sounds
05/01/14 Toronto, ON, Canada – The Garrison
05/02/14 Toledo, OH, Canada- Robinwood Concert House

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews.com.