Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor have done it again, this time by teaming up with two London musicians. But what on earth is "it"?!
Chicago jazz avant-gardist Rob Mazurek has been at this Chicago Underground thing with drummer Chad Taylor for so long that it's easy to keep track of all the releases they've done together, duo or otherwise. For A Night Walking Through Mirrors they double their ensemble size with two musicians from London, bassist John Edwards, and pianist Alexander Hawkins. They've conveniently named themselves Chicago/London Underground and recorded this live set at London's Café Oto for a modestly sized but appreciative crowd. And just as hard as it is to follow Mazurek and Taylor's combined careers, it's equally as hard to give a neat and tidy description to the sounds found within A Night Walking Through Mirrors.
If you've kept up with the Chicago Underground Duo, you know that their sound is made up of more than just cornet and drums. Mazurek feeds his cornet and voice through a sampler while Taylor, who rarely regulates himself to just "keeping time", doubles up on the mbira. Both are credited with electronics, giving off the impression that it's far more than just two people making all of these colorful noises.
Hawkins and Edwards can't ever be accused of walking into this session naively. The former's piano playing is appropriately spacey and open-ended, while the latter attacks his instrument to the point of producing a blistering buzz. Chuck it all together and it can be a maddening brew for the wrong person at the wrong time. But if you thought that Chicago's AACM was just the tip of the iceberg, then you are not that wrong person.
There are four tracks to A Night Walking Through Mirrors, but they feel close to arbitrary due to segues and the overall erratic nature of the music. The first track, the title track, deals in dynamic extremes. One moment, it's loud as hell. Fifteen minutes later, the quartet falls eerily quiet.
"Something Must Happen", in addition to being the shortest track at 15:22, spans both avant-garde jazz craziness and psychedelic freak-out. Chad Taylor gets his "Moby Dick" moment at the start of "Mysteries of Emanating Light", thunderously pounding his kit forward. And if you still spend your money on compact disc technology, A Night Walking Through Mirrors certainly gives you your money's worth, clocking in just six seconds shy of 80 minutes.
Surprisingly, Rob Mazurek's wordless, chant-like vocals slide into the mix just as easily as Edwards's bass. The stylistic ebb-and-flow of A Night Walking Through Mirrors gives the listener permission to forget once in a while that he or she is listening to a "jazz" album. As many people as there are who grumble about the avant-garde and free jazz, there are probably just as many who grumble about technology's role in jazz. Mazurek and Taylor have tapped into a sub-genre where technology compliments the feeling of liberation rather than spoils it. The more receptive you are to their tweakings, the more satisfying this album will be.
Hopefully Hawkins and Edwards can join them for some form of a long haul.