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Chicago Underground Quartet: Chicago Underground Quartet

A quartet in name and in fact, The Chicago Underground Quartet turns out a quiet album of interludes, fusing free improv with cinematic miniatures and traces of its musicians’ myriad electronic-music collaborations and side projects. This self-titled recording is on the short side at just under 40 minutes, but the Quartet maintains a faceted beauty from one end to the other, a fragile soundscape of noirish themes touched with free gestures and subtle electronics. It may be the best thing they’ve yet recorded.

The main element here is guitarist Jeff Parker, whose looped and heavily reverbed guitar give the music its backbone. More often than not, Parker will also slowly solo over his own playing, or rework a simple, chilly theme. Cornetist Rob Mazurek likes to hover in the background, playing fluttering, breathy lines over Parker’s guitar, and only occasionally swooping in to double a theme with him or carry it himself.

The Quartet seems most interested in the shape of the songs, which build up in layers, such as percussionist Chad Taylor’s quietly crashing cymbals or bassist Noel Kupersmith’s patient, sinewy bass lines, which pass like mileage markers on a dark highway.

Praise to engineer John McEntire (of Tortoise), who gets a terrific and apposite sound for the guys.

Originally Published