May 12, 2003
Family Vineyard 19
Fame may initially have come to the members of the Chicago Underground bands for their phase-shifting mixture of jazz, rock and electronica dubbed post-rock. But over time the sounds have become more predictable pastiche than innovative.
Far more palatable are the newest trio projects by two of the musicians: founder conetist/electronicist Rob Mazurek, who is one-third of Tigersmilk, which is showcased on a self-titled CD; and guitarist Jeff Parker, who debuts his own group on LIKE-COPING. Without fanzine fanfare, either CD provides a sound picture of Windy City improv eclecticism. Each is also impressive in its own way.
Knowing Mazureks background, TIGERSMILK is unsurprisingly more concerned with electronics than the other CD. But his playing partners — local bassist Jason Roebke and Vancouver drummer Dylan van der Schyff — keep the brassman away from the beat mongering of his work with Isotope 217 and some Chicago Underground discs. At times his playing almost resembles his original jazz style.
Roebke himself has experience encompassing bands with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, guitarist Scott Fields and clarinetist François Houle. Van Der Schyff has worked with Fields, Houle, saxophonist John Butcher and just about every improviser who passes through his hometown in British Columbia.
Strangely enough, considering both his mates — bassist Chris Lopes and drummer Chad Taylor — were on the Chicago Underground Orchestras PLAYGROUND CD, and Parker is a member of Isotope as well, Parkers CD is an all-out jazz effort. Then again, the guitarist was also a member of Ernest Dawkins New Horizon Ensemble, while the now New York-based drummer played with Chicago tenor legend Fred Anderson and is in a co-op trio with multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore and bassist Tom Abbs.
Consisting of all instant compositions, TIGERSMILK certainly shows off Mazureks Harmon mute. From the very first tune, little flurries of brass blats and squeals, plus electronic alterations distinguish his playing.
Not to be outdone, the other players stay away from common rhythm section sounds as well. Right on Agitate, for instance, feature van der Schyff rapping his sticks to produce a continuous ostinato, while Roebke snakes out deep, dark bowed lines that resolve themselves as a theme. Before a conclusion featuring a steady drum rat-tat tat and cowbell blows, the brassman has distorted his plunger tones through electronics. There are Ghosts lives up to its title, with sounds that imply contorted communication from outer space. You can hear the squeak of a drumstick on a cymbal, and electronic keyboard-like tones matched with arco bass slices. If the drummer smashes his floor tom for emphasis, then cornet tones head upwards as a crescendo.
Elsewhere the drone of electronic impulses pulls together a symphony of tiny gestures from all three men, with van der Schyff most outstanding, creating what appears to be the sound of marbles rolling on the floor, chirping grasshoppers and an imaginary elf tap dancing. At the same time, a few of what appears to be video game soundtracks and the sounds of percussive toys veering across the studio could be electronic, rather than percussive impulses.
In contrast to all this, Secret and Mask, the longest piece on the CD, appears to have all the qualifications of a traditional jazz tune. Encompassing walking bass, ascending lip vibratos and with Taylors brushes used on cymbals, drum heads and rims, it opens up with an intermittent, buzzing pulse and ricocheting string sounds, as the percussionist creates squeals by rubbing his drum heads with a wet finger and Mazurek exhibits hushed, this-side-of-Miles horn lines. Finally the tune decelerates with bowed bass and clip-clop percussion.
If TIGERSMILK sometimes sounds Miles-Davis-like jazzy, there are times on LIKE-COPING that you may feel that the ghosts of guitarists Grant Green or Tal Farlow have entered the studio during many of the 12 tracks. This is especially apparent in the discs mid-section.
On Onyx, written by Parker, for example, slithering finger-picking guitar chords in the bass clef join with subtle drum brush accents, while the thumping bass appears before the theme is again reprised on six-string. As traditional sounding as anything youd hear in a smoky jazz bar, Parker reprises the single-note head again and again until the fade. Watusi seems to be a throwback to those pseudo-primitive dance riffs of the early 1960s, with an Afro-Cuban beat and Parkers crystal clear picking bringing the work of another Chicago guitar hero — George Freeman — to mind.
Lopes Pinecone is an understated swinger like Onyx, built around a shifting vamp carried on Parkers top strings, which then shifts to a more legato sound as it expands with echoing grace notes. A four-note riff assembled by the guitarist forms the cubic basis of his tune entitled Cubes. Working in extensive guitar tremolo and single note embellishments, the speedy, slinky lines meet quiet bass plucks and Taylors understated brushwork.
Roundabout written by the drummer, but featuring him on classical guitar and Lopes on flute, is an airy bossa nova advanced with percussive cowbell, while Days Fly By, a sweet Latinesque song Parker wrote for his daughter, moves through andante single note picking and gentle strumming that bookends a straightforward bass solo.
Even when the guitarist distorts his tone to whistle noises through his amp on one track, or brings out the Korg synthesizer on another, the pieces revert to jazzy, finger-snappers before they end.
Away from the Chicago Underground, Parker and his pals are easily able to prove he can turn out a mainstream jazz album. While Mazurek and his men show that theres still plenty of musical terrain left to explore in the Windy City.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Tigersmilk: 1. Frequency Location 2. Long to Win 3. The Soft Releases 4. Little Pleasures 5. Right on Agitate 6. There are Ghosts 7. Secret and Mask 8. Waiting on Ferrari 9. Long, Past Time
Personnel: Tigersmilk: Rob Mazurek (cornet, electronics); Jason Roebke (bass); Dylan van der Schyff (drums)
Track Listing: Like: 1.Mariam 2. Like-Coping 3. Days Fly By 4. Holiday for a Despot 5. Onyx 6. Watusi 7. Omega Sci Fi 8. Pinecone 9. Cubes 10. Plain Song 11. Scrambler 12. Roundabout
Personnel: Jeff Parker (guitar, synthesizer); Chris Lopes (bass, C flute); Chad Taylor (drums, vibraphone, classical guitar)