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Chicago Underground Trio | Slon (Thrill Jockey)
Having practically rewritten the post-jazz anti-rule book with 2001's self-titled Chicago Underground Quartet debut and 2002's third Chicago Underground Duo album 'Axis & Alignment,' it seemed unforeseeable that Rob Mazurek would struggle to deliver a compelling follow-up with this third LP heading-up the Chicago Underground Trio. But struggle he has. Whereas the two aforementioned long-players did a brilliant job of fusing puritanical jazz with cutting-edge electronica, to produce passionate and melodic groove-based constructions, 'Slon' is a busted-flush. Separating out the forever-remunerating collective's inter-twining artistic impulses is at the root of this record's unexpected malaise. Unlike its far more potent predecessors, this is not a progressive genre-blending endeavour but merely a collection of so-so jazz instrumentals interspersed with some derivative electronic doodles.  
It could be argued that on the straight jazz front the Trio do at least hit some sort of a stride, as the valedictory swing of Protest suggests, wherein Mazurek's randy cornet has a super-sexy rhythm rub-down with Chad Taylor's slinky drums and Noel Kupersmith's nimble double-bass.  The sprightly Sevens isn't too bad either, in a Mingus-meets-Miles shuffle 'n' screech kind of way. But that's about your lot really on the quality jazz side of things.  Campbell Town and Shoe Lace try to cook up a freeform storm but they both come off as lazy half-baked jams that never really should have left the rehearsal room floor. The plaintive closer Pear starts as a promising bourbon-soaked lament but it simply goes nowhere but round a rather uneventful cornet motif that Mazurek could have conceived by remote control.  
If you have enough patience to find your way to the better jazz moments, you will however find it pulverised by the throwaway electronic interludes conceived by Mazurek and Kupersmith, at the expense of their (thankfully) unprogram-mable human percussionist. The glitchy bleeptronica of the title-track may be saved slightly by a calming cornet part and a subterranean bass-line, but Kite (one long pointless drone with occasional splashes of percussion) and Palermo (an ambient-techno pulse badly concealed behind some backwards laptop PC loops), certainly go a long way to explaining the feelings of aggravation and disappoint-ment that this album painfully invokes.
It would be churlish for us to write-off Mazurek's muse based solely on this one false move, especially given his past pedigree as an inspirational bandleader and as a resourceful collaborator on the Chicago post-rock scene, but if he continues to masquerade hum-drum indulgence as high art, then his reputation may become irredeemably tarnished.

March-April 2004