Right now I’m reading Jonathan Swift’s An Argumentation Against Abolishing Christianity for an historiographical essay. What does this have to do with Chicago Underground Duo’s newest album Boca Negra? Absolutely nothing. However, as that paper is glazing over the top of my brain at the moment, and Boca Negra is currently on rotation, I naturally start making comparisons. The result is thus: layers. Anyone familiar with Swift will be aware that as a master satirist, his work often pervades a sense of duality. Take for example, A Modest Proposal, which not only provides a tongue-in-cheek shot at the multitude of “proposals” espoused at that time, but also provides a social commentary on the perils that faced Ireland under oppressive Whig rule. Put into the context of historiography, more layers appear as questions of eighteenth century thought. Boca Negra doesn’t have social commentary or in no way does it critique aspects of humanity, but rather the layers come in the forms of sonic exploration and multi-genre soundscapes.
With respected Chicago jazz drummer Chris Taylor providing the free jazz splashes on the kit and at the marimba, and band leader Rob Mazurek yielding the cornet and various electronics, the duo sound far closer to a full band. It’s this fuller sound that gives the album a more unified feel than on past albums, such as the very good Axis and Alignment. Whereas that album was sketches of expressionistic explorations, layering avant-garde passages overtop of essentially traditional post-bop cores, Boca Negra makes its statement as a whole entity. That traditional foundation is still the piece that holds the atonal qualities together. The traditional off-plays the experimental. The martial percussion and improvised cornet machinations of “Spy On the Floor” spill wonderfully into the ambient–hell almost ethereal final three tracks. The almost Tom Waitsian “Quantam Eye” runs along well with the abstract opener “Green Ants”. Then there is the majestic “Hermeto”, the pulsing post-jazz lullabye that forms the cerebral centerpiece of the album.
Variety is also on Boca Negra which also stands it apart from past Mazurek releases. The driving, dissonant piano chords that open “Confliction”, or the horror house marimbas of “Left Hand of Darkness”. Basically your reaction to this record will most likely mirror your reaction to any other Mazurek release. The avant-garde, near free improvised, squalls of sound can be abrasive, or it can create interesting textures. The experiments can feel like ho-hum cheating instead of solid composition, or it can be atmospheric sonic explorations. What most will undoubtedly approve of is the enate sense of melody that runs through the heart of Boca Negra. It’s what gives the album replay value, and makes it one of the better releases of the year.
it's not that expansive, Marko. It's not really eclectic even, they have a sound, especially if you've listened to their early stuff, that they keep on this record. They just use it better in terms of flow, etc.
They seem to me like a nu-jazz duo, but judging from your review they sound almost purposefully trying to elude structure (I like this). Avante-garde is always a good thing to delve into now and then; especially when this bands reminds me of Polar Bear and Jaga Jazzist in the way you describe them.
hmm, well it was just really hard to describe them because they don't sound anything like jaga jazzist or Polar Bear... well maybe "Hermento" but that's more like chilled out Do Make Say Think, which is also cool. Honestly this is way more like traditional jazz on acid, then nu-jazz, though the electronics can give it a nu-jazz feel. Especially on the softer last three tracks.
Also, I don't think they "elude structure", because a structure is obviously there, but at the same time, they really stretch what a "structure" is.