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January/February 2004

Active Ingredients
Titration
Delmark Records

In organic chemistry, the "active ingredients" of a pharmaceutical are those that deliver the intended results. "Titration" is a method of determining the concentration of dissolved solutions by applying trace amounts of reagents. Together the two terms conveniently describe the processes at play on this fierce and fascinating CD-as they should, since drummer Chad Taylor named both his ensemble and its debut recording with such chemical principles in mind.

Within progressive circles, Taylor is best recognized as a founding partner, with cornetist Rob Mazurek, of the Chicago Underground Duo, Trio and Quartet. Mazurek sits in on three tracks here, with typically sharp results. But Active Ingredients should be seen as a step away from the Underground enterprise. Its sensibilities encompass not only the Afrocentric abstractions of Chicago's AACM but also the urgency of New York's post-'60s avant-garde.

Taylor is a finesse player, but he has no aversion to bristling tensions. As a composer, he's fond of simple melodic statements cast against a roiling polyrhythmic pulse. His "Song for Dyani" finds alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc and trombonist Steve Swell playing a folklike figure over an odd-metered, brazenly propulsive groove, and the effect is nearly hypnotic. "Modern Mythology," meanwhile, features a full septet-the aforementioned players plus tenor David Boykin, bassist Tom Abbs and percussionist Avreeayl Ra-whirling effortlessly in and out of lock step.

Imbued with a depth that rewards repeated listening, Titration marks both a victory for Taylor and a solid entry in the catalog of today's shape-shifting avant-garde. And although each participating musician solos competently (and often compellingly), it's the ensemble that takes center stage. Chemistry, indeed.

Originally published in January/February 2004
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