Album Review: Boca Negra by Chicago Underground Duo
Very Good, Based on 8 Critics
AllMusic - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Boca Negra, the title of fourth Chicago Underground Duo album comes from the Tenerife Canary Island, and means "Black Mouth." It is defined as both a verb -- “the endless intake of information” -- and as a noun: it's the local's name for the Tiede volcano. How the former relates to the music here is directly relational. Cornet player Rob Mazurek and drummer, vibraphonist, and mbira player Chad Taylor, also use computers and electronics.
Boca Negra, the fifth release by the avant-garde jazz combo Chicago Underground Duo, begins with a shofar-like invocation by cornet player Rob Mazurek. He beckons the listener like a man speaking in tongues to some kind of holy holy lama lama quasi-spiritual experience. Chad Taylor joins in on drums, changing tempos and timbres, to invite the body to dance along.
Boca Negra is a slang term in Spanish, used to denote someone who is foul-mouthed or abusive. It’s also a type of cake. Somewhere in between the sour and the sweet lies this album from Thrill Jockey mainstays Chicago Underground Duo. Cornetist Rob Mazurek and drummer Chad Taylor have been around the block a few times, collaborating with the cream of the crop of Chicago musicians.
At the turn of the last decade, when the Chicago Underground collective was putting out a new record every year, they carved out their aesthetic by distancing themselves from existing styles and thought patterns. They absorbed a lot of influences — Ornette-flavored free-bop, electronica, classical-inspired minimalism, indie rock, etc. — but they didn’t chase after them; they adopted them, using them as topics for honest conversation rather than as dogma.
For any hot-blooded music adventurist, avant-jazz records should harness high expectations for the sole reason that all rules are, in effect, broken. As long as its listeners are acquainted with jazz and excited by its standard forms, its fluent rhythms, this futurist sub-genre should be a cakewalk of subjecting classic templates to radical reinvention. This premise of endless possibilities, while exciting when spouted off in jargon, doesn’t often translate well to tape.
Atmospheric, exploratory music that creates worlds as it progresses. Colin Buttimer 2010 Chicago Underground Duo is one part trumpeter Rob Mazurek, one part drummer Chad Taylor. Expanding at various times into quartet and orchestra formats, Boca Negra is the duo's fifth album since 1998 and it sounds delightfully unfamiliar. Green Ants is stripped down to essentials and then some.
Although Thrill Jockey’s roster has been radically reshuffled and expanded of late to suck in and publish the wares of a newer promising generation of artistic adventurers – such as High Places, Mountains, The Fiery Furnaces and Thank You – it still falls to the remaining incumbent old-guard signees to sustain the freewheeling character of the label in-between times. This necessity has become more crucial following the defection of Giant Sand and Califone to other enterprises and since the productivity of TJ veterans like The Sea & Cake, Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day has slumped short of mid-90s-to-mid-noughties release rates. Now, the forever-evolving Chicago Underground Duo (sometimes also the Chicago Underground Trio or Quartet), reappear after a four or so year hiatus to take a turn at representing the old school faction of Thrill Jockey’s no-longer-so exclusive club.
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