The Chicago Underground Duo is trapped in time. Most would agree that somewhere in the eighties, jazz, one of America’s greatest art forms, started to fade into the background. Culturally today there is a lot of indirect exposure, since the creative energy that used to go into the genre is still alive, but is just spilling into different directions. But the disconnect between Art Blakey and Pete Rock to broader audiences is a tragedy, and makes me wonder why there aren't more artists uncovering this space and musical text?
The Duo, now as formed, by cornetist/trumpeter Rob Mazurek and drummer/percussionist Chad Taylor, have an improvisational tradition with multiple and/or previous band members since the“Chicago Underground” name has traversed a quartet and an orchestra over the years. Boca Negra finds the two instrumentalists transitioning between their dizzying talents, inspired by greats of the seventies, and incorporating their own brand electronic influences.
The frenetic moments are highlighted on the opener “Green Ants,”and there is no denying the musical talent on display. They are full of soul and devotion, which should resonate with anyone who has an appreciation for acid/avant-garde era. Where they make contributions to a modern identity is on the tracks that come after. Tracks like like “Left Hand of Darkness” and “Quantum Eye” slow things down and graft synthetic bridges into the same environment.
During the course of the album things begin to smooth out over these divisions. The dizzying energy finds solid ground to glide across on “Confliction” and “Spy on the Floor,” by adding lucid bass lines and sprite piano and xylophone percussion. By consequence, the almost interlude moments harbor themselves within the same wave, and quietly glow on “Hermeto” and “Vergence.”
The most difficult role in defining the triumph of Boca Negra is the lack peers for comparison. In an era when jazz is too often trying to appeal into shallow perceptions of the past, the Chicago Underground Duo has the confidence to say, while challenging the moment has its risks, it's worth the sound of history to come.