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Chicago Underground Duo: Axis and Alignment

The Windy City is a chilly town, but that hasn’t prevented Rob Mazurek from making friends amid Chicago’s adventurous music scene. Whether the cornetist is sitting in with alt.rock acts Tortoise, Stereolab and Jim O’Rourke, or fronting the avant-funk sextet Isotope 217 and the ever-shifting Chicago Underground lineup, Mazurek’s music is defined by his friends.

In percussionist Chad Taylor, Mazurek has found an ideal pal with whom he can explore chromatic and tonal possibilities. On its third record, the Chicago Underground Duo continues to explore the space between composition and improvisation, melody and abstraction, jazz and rock. On Axis and Alignment, the Duo expands its sound, with Taylor playing guitar in addition to his vibraphone and trap set, while Mazurek implements electronics and piano. With track titles like “Particle and Transfiguration,” “Two Concepts for the Storage of Light” and “Memoirs of a Space Traveller,” Mazurek and Taylor seem to be preoccupied with relationships and structure. Divided into two suites, the 11-track album is the Duo’s most dynamic work, featuring some of its densest playing (“Particle and Transfiguration”) as well as some of its most buoyant (“Micro Exit,” “Lem”). This sensational album’s highlights, though, are “Exponent Red” and “Rotation,” when Taylor’s rhythmic charge and Mazurek’s melodious cornet playing lock together.

Even on his solo album, Mazurek calls on his friends for help: Chicago scenesters Sam Prekop, John Herndon, Matthew Lux, Casey Rice and Bundy K. Brown all make appearances on Amorphic Winged, a seven-track hodgepodge recorded in the spring of 2001. The music is sort of a cross between the Chicago Underground style and the avant-garde electronic music Mazurek produces under the Orton Socket moniker. The tracks vary in length, style and contributors, with Mazurek’s penchant for stark sounds being the lone constant. Mazurek can create compelling solo electronic music, but Amorphic Winged’s “Clouded Rooms” is an abrasive misstep and the 16-minute “Steel Cut Oak” doesn’t merit its time allotment. For the most part the highlights come when Mazurek opts for cornet over electronics, as on “Strange Logics” and “The Shaping Light.”

Originally Published