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Live Review: Chicago Underground Duo at the Bootleg Theater

February 13, 2010 |  2:08 pm

Given the numbers in play, it would be easy to assume that the music from long-running jazz/ambient/post-rock duo of cornetist Rob Mazurek and drummer Chad Taylor would be full of wide-open spaces or perhaps tension-filled gaps between the somewhat limited tonal palette involved.

If any of those in attendance were new to this duo's tricks and were operating under such assumptions, they were quickly corrected. Hatched out of the same fertile Windy City jazz and improv scene that spawned post-rock standard-bearers Tortoise and saxophonist Ken Vandermark, the Chicago Underground Duo's performance at the Bootleg Theater on Friday night was dedicated to the art of doing more with less. 

Performing before an engaged, indie-leaning crowd of scruffy beards and horned-rimmed glasses, the duo conjured the spirit of the '70s loft jazz scene of New York City under the Bootleg Theater's raw, high-beamed ceilings. At times the band's songs crested into dissonant waves of fiery energy, such as with the aptly named "Labyrinth," which rose out of a remarkably knotted vibraphone-and-drums introduction by Taylor, while with others they locked into a taut but free-flowing groove that flirted with propulsive rock.

But it was the touches of electronics, the group's unofficial third member, that most colored the duo's sound. Building from a echoing vibraphone introduction from Taylor, "Blue Sparks From Her, and the Scent of Lighting" expanded into a kinetic, head-bobbing workout on the back of a sinister looped bassline triggered by Mazurek. "Spy on the Floor," a highlight from the group's excellent new album "Boca Negra," opened with a clattering snare drum groove from Taylor that teamed with a deceptively simple looped bass line to evolve into a Latin-tinged sort of robot funk under Mazurek's roiling cornet.

At one point Mazurek treated his horn with a bank of delay effects until it resembled either a foghorn carving through the darkness or a crazed chorus of distant whales. As Taylor dropped into a manic drum-and-bass rhythm it seemed there was no style or sound the duo couldn't filter through its lens and have it come out sounding like the next wave in jazz. May it not stay underground long.

-- Chris Barton

Photo: Rob Mazurek, left, and Chad Taylor onstage at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles. Credit: Chris Barton