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Chicago Underground Duo - Boca Negra

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Artist: Chicago Underground Duo

Album: Boca Negra

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Feb. 17, 2010


Chicago Underground Duo - "Spy on the Floor" (Boca Negra)


Boca Negra is the fifth album as a duo for Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor, the core of the Chicago Underground Orchestra. Mazurek is a trumpeter and Taylor a drummer, but each contributes via electronics as well. Despite that augmentation, and that the Orchestra has been more an imagined community than an album-releasing entity, Taylor and Mazurek sound lonely. The duo left Chicago to record this album — Boca Negra was recorded in Brazil — and seem to be using microchips to fill in gaps in their artistic community.

Taylor and Mazurek are genre tourists. They come at the industry from jazz, but play for bands when the want strikes, and here, they wander back and forth between live-ish improvisation and sequenced composition. For most of the album, neither mode informs the other; this makes both tentative. "Hermeto," named for the Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal, is lilting loops of digital piano, marimba and wind that skim the surface of ‘pretty’ without achieving the ache or joy of beauty. "Spy on the Floor" is its opposite, loping instead of lilting and seemingly live rather than digital.

Even while straighter than other tracks, "Confliction" wakes things up. It begins as a piano-trumpet duo, but the piano actually is digital, "played" by Chad Taylor. One would never know; the chords are too chunky and uneven to seem sequenced. Drums bust in as the piano drops out, and then all three weave around each other. Where the Duo is partial, a trio suffices, or at least two have learned to sound like three.

Is this false improvisation subversive, or is it born of necessity, an inability to find a third player who would make the desired sounds? In part, the use of such means to make a piece that sounds anything but experimental projects a hollow desire for artistic control. Surrendering to another could have produced a more engaging dissonance.

Travel’s seduction — the possibility to be forever innocent — also leaves one naive, and there is a tendency here to touch down on various grounds and depart before learning the blind alleys and hidden views. Chicago is no longer home, but nowhere else is either.

By Josie Clowney

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