Chicago_underground_span3
July/August 2007

Chicago Underground Trio
Chronicle
Delmark Records

Jason Ajemian’s opening bass solo sets the tone: Built primarily around a densely packed series of fierce double-stops with a few single-string flails thrown in, it stutters and lurches forward in boxy, asymmetrical patterns, as if Ajemian intends to throw down a gauntlet against the very notion of “swing.” As percussionist Chad Taylor and cornetist/electronicist Rob Mazurek join in, the sonic landscape deepens and expands. Taylor provides texture, depth and variegated timbral contrasts; Mazurek’s growls and blats expand the “elephantine” metaphor suggested by Ajemian’s thunderfoot bass attack.

This set captures a 2006 performance at Chicago’s German Cultural Center. But Mazurek and engineer Todd Carter also tweaked and embellished the original tracks a bit during postproduction, “attempting,” as Mazurek tells us in Peter Margasak’s liner notes, “to blur the lines between live and not live.” That blurring is most evident on “Power,” on which Taylor’s unobtrusive but pungent drum seasonings become slowly eclipsed by an electronic firestorm of jagged edges, chirps, cheeps and burbles that intensifies into a full-scale cyber-hallucination.

Our preconceived expectations of what things might be are challenged, mocked and then reimagined, only to dissolve and re-emerge yet again in new forms. In the final piece, “Transcendence,” a series of marimba skitters gradually coalesces into a tightly gelled sound collage with Ajemian’s bass, along with various synthesized sparks, blips and swirls, which then fade away and leave the bass alone once again. It’s eventually rejoined by a circular, pulsating synth groove that rises and builds, stretching the tautness and the tension like skin; Mazurek then dances in with a bolero-like cornet line. But the soundscape gradually unclutters until finally everything concludes as, according to legend, it all began: with the drum.

Originally published in July/August 2007
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