AMN Reviews: Chicago / London Underground – A Night Walking Through Mirrors (2017; Cuneiform Records)

Cornetist Rob Mazurek has developed a distinctive sound over the last decade or so – a form of open-ended improv that is based on premeditated themes, but spacious and deliberately paced with an emphasis on tasteful use of voice, electronics, and effects. Here, he teams with longtime collaborator Chad Taylor on drums, as well as two gentlemen from across the pond, Alexander Hawkins on piano and John Edwards on bass. The resulting Chicago / London Underground quartet traverse four long tracks on this debut recording, recorded live last April at London’s Cafe Oto.

Mazurek and Taylor, of course, are the Chicago Underground Duo. Playing and recording together for 20 years, they have released seven albums as the Duo, and several more with others as the Chicago Underground Trio or Chicago Underground Quartet. Taylor is sought-after in Chicago and elsewhere, having a storied career as a session-man. Hawkins, the youngest member of the group, is a notable creative-music pianist who is becoming a mainstay of the London scene. His influences include Art Tatum, Cecil Taylor, and Marilyn Crispell, and he plays “free” but with a great clarity. Edwards is a legendary player in European improv.

With such collective resumes amongst its members, the expectations for this version of the Underground is high. But perhaps the initial impression developed from listening to A Night Walking Through Mirrors is that the group will go just about anywhere. Mazurek offers some of his trademark echoing themes, but breaks them down while Taylor provides an active, driving rhythm, giving the whole drum kit a workout. Edwards is similarly up and down the bass, positively attacking and sawing at it at times, while Hawkins has the knack of putting the right notes in unexpected places.

The pacing varies, as each track has slower, structureless sections, as well as more full-out moments. Ultimately, the album captures the quintessential feel of a free-improv live performance – the dynamics, skillfulness, and idiosyncracies.

The result is nearly 80 minutes of intense, yet thoughtful music. Comparisons? None that are apt, though this might be what would have come from Miles Davis if he had taken a few more left turns around 1970. A subtle release with a character that grows.

Other reviews of Mazurek’s recordings:

AMN Reviews: Rob Mazurek and Black Cube SP – Return the Tides: Ascension Suite and Holy Ghost (2014; Cuneiform Records)

AMN Reviews: Chicago Underground Duo – Locus (2014; Northern Spy)

AMN Reviews: São Paulo Underground – Beija Flors Velho E Sujo (Cuneiform)

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