Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Boca Negra - Chicago Underground Duo (No Ripcord Review)

Boca Negra

Chicago Underground Duo
Thrill Jockey Records.

No Ripcord Rating: 6
SCQ Rating: 64%

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. What happens post-structure? How does one weigh traditional jazz trademarks against an unbridled desire to dive into sonic unknowns? In other words, if avant-jazz is by definition the evolution of jazz, how does its soul usually get lost in the shuffle?

Boca Negra, the fifth release by Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor, doesn’t answer any of my genre-existential questions so much as further enshroud them. Yet still, I’m oddly satisfied. Even amid this record’s most loosely structured, grating moments – the aimless improvisations for 'Green Ants', the shrugging effects on 'Roots and Shooting Stars' – Boca Negra carries the flexible spirit of jazz in tow, maintaining its soul instead of crawling the nihilistic wasteland avant-jazz efforts often settle for. This - for lack of better word - authenticity vindicates some compositions that initially sounded slapdash, transforming the randomly bonkers tones of a track like 'Left Hand of Darkness' into a svelte, almost romantic rumination. Other songs unveil their treasures more generously; 'Hermeto' is a melodic coda of interloping keys and 'Confliction' hammers its baggage over traumatic piano chords before fading into a wasp’s nest of tight bass, deft percussion and shrill horns. By challenging their audience with constant dynamic shifts, Chicago Underground Duo inevitably render Boca Negra a prickly affair – hard to unravel, tougher to comfortably lose oneself in – and that makes rare moments of uncluttered beauty all the more pleasurable. Finale 'Vergence' utilizes electronic textures more honestly than its predecessors and basks in the after-hours glow of its minimal beats and sweeping ambience without losing a pinch of avant-jazz cred. The result truly dwarfs the cathartic outbursts employed throughout much of Boca Negra, and transcends my jargon about revolutionizing a genre. No thesis, no bells or whistles; Vergence just goes out and creates anew.

My high expectations for Boca Negra, misguided as they were, have been consoled, if not met, by the realization that if any act can legitimize avant-jazz beyond its narrow niche (never mind my aforementioned doubts), Chicago Underground Duo have the verve and creativity to enable it.

(This review was originally published on No Ripcord...)

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