Technically speaking, the Chicago Underground Duo isn’t exactly based in Chicago anymore. These two jazz musicians, Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor, spend most of their time now living elsewhere. But they’ve kept Chicago in their band name, and they still record for that fine Chicago label, Thrill Jockey. And they were back on their old home turf Wednesday night (Feb. 3) for a free show at the Chicago Cultural Center.
It was a superb set, filled with really nice moments from both players. Mazurek was a master at getting different tones out of his cornet, using various mutes and aiming his horn at various angles to the microphone. When Mazurek got quiet, it was like his cornet was whispering or crying out at a great distance away. Meanwhile, Taylor’s drumming was far more than mere time keeping. He squeezed expressive sounds out of those drums, playing quirky patterns and making the rhythms seem almost melodic. He also played the vibraphone (sometimes simultaneously with the drums), including some hypnotically repeating series of notes that laid the groundwork for Mazurek’s solos.
The fact that these guys call themselves “underground” might lead you to think they’re experimental or, well, “difficult.” And yes, there is an experimental spirit to their collaborations, including the excellent new record Boca Negra. But what was striking about Wednesday’s performance was just how accessible this music is to anyone listening with open ears. You’ll get another chance to see the Chicago Underground Duo soon, when they play a CD-release party Feb. 20 at the Hideout.