After a standout set on the main stage of the Chicago Jazz Festival this summer, there has been quite a buzz about the debut recording of Robert Mazurek's Chicago Underground Orchestra. On Playground, the Orchestra effortlessly channels highly intuitive and energetic free playing (with a nod to electric Miles) into inherently tuneful compositions by trumpeter Mazurek and guitarist Jeff Parker, with a band rounded out by some truly imaginative players: trombonist Sara Smith, bassist Chris Lopez, and drummer Chad Taylor. Features members of popular post-rock Chicago ensembles Tortoise and Isotope.
1. Blow Up
2. Flamingos Dancing On Luminescent Moonbeams
3. Boiled Over
4. Le Sucrier Velours
5. Components Changes
7. Jeff's New Idea
8. The Inner Soul Of H
The Chicago Underground Trio also performs on Possible Cube and Flamethrower.
Cornetist Mazurek and his Chicago Underground Orchestra collective have
achieved a solid balance between tight melodicism and outwardly unrestrained
group interplay...They prove composition is as adventurous as extended improvisation.
The core...Mazurek, guitarist Jeff Parker & trombonist Sara P.
Smith - are also daring and versatile enough to play enticing instrumental
funk under the name Isotope 217.
The group's dual identity is uncanny, but is consistent with their awareness and transformation of divergent strains of jazz on Playground. Mazurek has spent a number of years in various hard-bop units, and the results of these expereinces are clear in his sharp intonation and expert use of a minimal amount of notes. As a player, and conceptually, his sound resonates with ideas inherited from Miles Davis, Lee Morgan and Don Cherry. Drummer Chad Taylor and bassist Chris Lopes draw on the 60's free movement's use of the rhythm section to create space and texture instead of just propulsion and timekeeping...
Their rendition of Duke Ellington's somewhat lesser-known "Le Sucier Velours" would be a highlight in a set from many of the high-profile repertoire bands. With added percussionists, Herbie Hancock's "Blow Up" has a gritty sense of motion. That Mazurek and Parker's songbooks blend in on the same disc as Ellington and Hancock says a lot for the future of the Chicago Underground Orchestra.
(Four Stars) -Aaron Cohen, Down Beat
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