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April 2006

Chicago Underground Duo
In Praise of Shadows
Thrill Jockey

While cornetist Rob Mazurek now lives in Brazil and percussionist Chad Taylor dwells in Brooklyn, they will always be linked to the Windy City's febrile, fecund postrock and jazz communities whence both sprang and which both have imbued with unconventional creativity.

Chicago Underground Duo's hardcore following will not be disappointed by the band's ninth release, In Praise of Shadows. The opening lovely, lulling fanfare "Falling Awake" doesn't prepare you for the outre questing that follows it. Mazurek and Taylor each brandish several tools besides their main implements, intent on exploring their most sublime tonalities. For instance, the 12-minute title track starts with a stark sparring between piano and drums, all oblique intrigue and Cubist shafts of vivid timbres. With four minutes left, Taylor initiates some swift tom-tom clubbing and Mazurek emits lyrical arabesques on his cornet that sound like powerful expressions that've been bottled up for too long. Wafting in an aura of steely tranquility and neck-hair-stiffening anticipation, the track occupies that vastly fascinating space between Sun Ra at his most sparse and Ennio Morricone at his most enigmatic.

CUD's extraordinary range is exemplified by "The Glass House" and "Pangea." The former revels in glassy, mobilelike tones derived from gongs, mbira, vibes, etc., and is beatifically meditative. In the latter, Mazurek conjures a Xenakis-like sheet of abrasive bleakness via noise box and ring modulator while Taylor gives his kit a thorough tattooing. The track progressively intensifies to an apocalyptic crescendo that'll delight the most headstrong noiseniks. Overall, Shadows is an acquired taste, but if you value challenging music, it's one worth cultivating.

Originally published in April 2006
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