The vexing issue of the conflict in Iraq has prompted many jazz musicians to raise their voice in onstage protest. The Chicago Underground Trio’s Slon is, according to the press release, “in a nutshell, an anti-war record.” Yet whatever your feelings about Iraq, it should come as no surprise that jazz is being harnessed as a medium of protest.
In this largely understated outing the tonal route is preferred, or “sonic means” as Rob Mazurek (cornet, laptop) points out, as a means of protest even if representations of anger and frustration remain hazy. Clearly the use of computers means a new sonic environment for jazz musicians to work in, and the Trio harnesses this new energy source to provide discreet backings on “Protest,” based on a pedal point and featuring Mazurek’s increasingly anguished cornet solo discreetly counterpointed by his own previously recorded riffs. It works well, although it probably won’t cause the administration any sleepless nights. The title track is essayed by Mazurek’s cornet and Noel Kupersmith’s bowed bass over a lumpy sonic vamp that has no beginning, middle or end and stops short of a piece that can be marveled at for “itself,” suggesting that further development is necessary on the basic idea. “Zagreb” opens with what seems to be a celestial vacuum cleaner before Kupersmith’s bass provides a solemn pedal point and drummer Chad Taylor adds rhythmic coloring while Mazurek’s Harmon muted horn ponders the melodic options.
The potential of the laptop, which is mostly used to provide background color and electronic rhythms on Slon, is more fully realized on “Palermo,” with sonic textures that cry out for an improviser to jump in. It reinforces the impression of an album of partly realized ideas that, with a lot more shedding, could have produced a memorable statement.