Twenty years ago, cornetist Rob Mazurek and drummer Chad Taylor began playing under the moniker Chicago Underground Collective. Players came and went, and the name was amended to the Chicago Underground Duo when it became clear the pair generated the core concept. Their albums reveal a rapport that has developed over many years, with unique ideas about improvisation and how and when to develop sonics. For that reason, anyone who sits in has a great responsibility.
Neither pianist Alexander Hawkins nor bassist John Edwards had ever played with Mazurek or Taylor prior to a performance at London’s Café OTO last year. Yet their previous experiences in London (collectively having performed with Evan Parker, Sunny Murray and Anthony Braxton, to name a few) more than prepared them for the task at hand. The deep connections among the four can be felt immediately on the 24-minute “A Night Spent Walking Through Mirrors.” Sounds rise and fall in waves as Mazurek’s cornet blasts blend with Edwards’ visceral bass sounds, both arco and pizzicato. The momentum holds together through the dynamic shifts; when one musician pauses, another one is always ready to continue in his wake. At the midpoint, only Taylor’s mbira and Hawkins’ keys remain floating on the surface, but this tranquil pause feels hypnotic.
The other three tracks, all lengthy, keep the atmosphere going via Taylor’s multidirectional drumming or by incorporating Mazurek’s electronics and voice. “Boss Redux” uses the programmed riff of a Chicago Underground Duo piece as an improvisational springboard—an appropriate backdrop for Hawkins’ Cecil Taylor-esque exclamations—before the group finally lands with fragments of a jazz standard. Clearly this was a meeting of kindred spirits, which hopefully will happen again before long.