Rob Mazurek & the Chicago Underground Orchestra | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Rob Mazurek & the Chicago Underground Orchestra


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The enthusiastic commingling of disparate ideas is one of the unspoken ideals of jazz, but all too often members of a given group display a predictable homogeneity. Not so with cornetist Rob Mazurek, guitarist Jeffrey Parker, bassist Josh Abrams, and drummer Robert Barry. Mazurek's brash but lyrical attack may be associated with hard bop--as heard on last year's terrific Badlands, with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander--but with this unit, he's taken his playing toward the fringes. While the assured muscle of Lee Morgan still pulses through Mazurek's solos on more swinging material, the piquant phrasing of Don Cherry or the gorgeously abstract smears of Bill Dixon are just as likely to surface--though Mazurek is no mere composite of influences. Parker, a member of New Horizons Ensemble as well as a sometime collaborator with the art rockers in Tortoise, is an astounding talent. His cool, liquid playing reveals a keen understanding of Jim Hall's uncut melodicism, but the influence of funk and soul and a thorough grasp of free music are evident in his nervy contributions. Abrams used to play with Philadelphia hip-hoppers Roots, but his work with Mazurek favors an impressively lean, woody sound suggestive of Henry Grimes. Barry, an alumnus of Sun Ra's Arkestra, drives the quartet with a hard-swinging edge. Considering the range of backgrounds, the quartet is remarkably cohesive, tempering its probing solos with accessibly brisk rhythms and an easy tunefulness. Starting in September Mazurek and Parker will be touring abroad for several months, so this gig offers one of the last glimpses for a while of one of Chicago's best working groups. Wednesday, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 276-3600.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photograph of R.M. & the C.U.O. by Jim Alexander Newberry.

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