Chicago Underground Duo – Boca Negra

January 01, 1970

(Thrill Jockey)



The yen to blend ambient soundscapes and avant garde elements
seems to be encoded in the genomes of most Chicago musicians of a certain age, none
more so than Chicago Underground collective members Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor.
Boca Negra, the collective’s fifth
duo release and first recorded outside of Chicago (at Sao Paolo, Brazil), is
again comprised of improvisational pieces that almost feel composed, composed
pieces that sound awfully free, and computer effects that further blur those
distinctions in  these (primarily) cornet-drum-vibraphone
collages. (Taylor is at the computer controls here for the first time instead
of Mazurek, and is liberal enough with the tweaking that it sounds like there
are 30 different instruments, not three.)


Naturally, dynamic tensions and shifting moods trump traditional
song structure, but it’s the contrasts that are most striking. On “The Left
Hand of Darkness,” Taylor’s heavily distorted mbira creates nocturnal jungle-noise
textures that finally birth rhythms and graceful horn lines (Mazurek even briefly
quotes Ravel’s “Bolero”), while on “Quantum Eye” a gentle samba eventually emerges
from a haze of distant horn echoes and distorted percussion. Other tracks tap
into the duo’s fondness for hypnotic repetitive figures (not unlike their
brethren in Tortoise), as when Mazurek’s muted horn stipples overlapping vibraphone
lines on the Eno-like “Hermeto,” or the chop-shop beats (think Four Tet) add
dimension to the pretty ballad “Vergence.” Even more infectious is the looping
bass groove of “Spy on the Floor.” Taylor press-rolls over the insistent bass riff
to ratchet up the tension for Mazurek, who demonstrates why he’s one of our
best modern horn players, trilling glissandos or attacking staccato without
sacrificing the lyricism of a theme that’s just waiting for another Bond or
Bourne film.


The duo’s interplay is even better on the more experimental
opener, “Green Ants.” Mazurek opens with a flurry of legatos like sparks from a
grindstone while Taylor explores the full nuance of his kit. At the freer end
of the spectrum, “Confliction” is the record’s most challenging piece, with time
signatures that vary between 17/8 and 4/4; the duo’s version of Ornette
Coleman’s “Broken Shadows” — the band’s first cover of any kind – is equally
unhinged. Whether computer squiggles add very much is debatable, however, which
you can say as well for the heavy processing that overwhelms the aimless “Roots
and Shooting Stars.” 


Despite the occasional over-indulgence, Boca Negra is another exciting entry in the Chicago Underground
catalog. After all these years working right on the edge between free and ambient,
Mazurek and Taylor
show deft enough touch to call those shadows their own.


“Hermeto” “Vergence” JOHN SCHACHT


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