Chicago Underground Duo In Praise Of Shadows

[Thrill Jockey; 2006]

Styles: free-jazz, post-bop, ambient, noise
Others: Triptych Myth, post-TNT Tortoise, electric period Miles Davis

In a 2004 interview conducted by All About Jazz, Rob Mazurek spoke of his work in concepts: "My thoughts are towards an integration of sound and color, matter, space and emotion." Another reviewer (I forget where, unfortunately) also found the Tortoise and Isotope 217 member and Chicago Underground (Duo, Trio, Quartet) staple's holistic artistic vision fitting when he wrote about 2005's From the Bottle by the aggressive free-improv trio Tigersmilk (Mazurek, Jason Roebke, and Dylan van der Schyff). Mazurek's paintings that cover albums like Axis & Alignment and Synaesthesia are mostly monochromatic, yet intensely colorful, textural, though uniformly flat. The subtleties in the visuals of his art are more drastic upon a closer viewing: the smooth brushstroke suddenly becomes a coarse stucco-like texture without breaking its aesthetic stride. And while In Praise Of Shadows unfortunately lacks original Mazurek art, the aural effect is still the same when a cool piano explores the outer realms of space and then quickly grounds to earth with the sound of the tribal drum just as the Duo does on the excellent title track.
2002's Axis & Alignment, one of the albums that more or less introduced me to free-jazz, built itself on collages of sound. Four years later, In Praise of Shadows continues the Duo's metamorphosis, but holistically extends the idea into a more pure form of textural ambience. Elements of Shona music (Zimbabwe) through the mbira (similar to what we call the thumb piano) and Indonesian music inform the ambience, particularly on "The Glass House," which recalls "Nautilus" from Triptych Myth's debut on Hopscotch Records (Taylor is a member). Two tracks later, transcendent beauty becomes a hypnotic Eno-like noise in a drum/ring modulator aural destruction. They do well to intersperse these tracks with cornet/percussion throbs as those are definitely still their most realized improvisations, especially with Taylor's deeply resonant drums. What the Chicago Duo accomplishes is an exciting reality that these seemingly opposed textures are not exclusive. As a result, In Praise of Shadows will be one of the most fully realized concepts, visually or aurally, jazz or ambient, you hear in 2006.

1. Falling Awake
2. In Praise of Shadows
3. The Glass House
4. Cities Without Citadels
5. Pangea
6. Funeral of Dreams
7. The Light In Between