Chicago Underground Trio: Slon
Thrill Jockey

Slon (“elephant” in Slovanian) is the third Chicago Underground Trio release, preceded by 1999’s Possible Cube and 2000’s Flamethrower. Remarkably, acoustic bassist Noel Kupersmith, cornet player Rob Mazurek, and drummer Chad Taylor recorded Slon in a mere three days during April, 2003, with one day apiece for laying the tracks, mixing, and cutting them to tape. The brief recording time is belied, however, by the set’s compositional quality, stylistic range, and the caliber of the musicians’ playing. There’s an overt political dimension, as the music was developed during the group’s 2003 European “No War Tour,” the war on Iraq having begun only days into the tour. Dedicated to “all the people who have lost their lives at the hands of U.S. Imperialism,” Slon won’t win the band any favours within the Bush administration, but it deserves to be heard by those partial to wide-ranging instrumental music. Jazz aficionados will detect in the trio’s playing traces of Ornette Coleman’s classic ‘60s quartet, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and The Art Ensemble of Chicago, with the Coleman influence most audible in “Sevens” and “Shoe Lace.” Slon’s no mere exercise in mimicry, however, as the trio updates classic acoustic jazz with electronics from Mazurek and Kupersmith. Among the highlights is the opening salvo, “Protest.” Whether or not Mazurek’s deliberately channeling the spirit of Don Cherry, it certainly sounds like he’s fully absorbed the style of Ornette’s front-line partner; there’s even a nice touch of Lester Bowie splatter at track’s end. Soloing aggressively from the outset, Taylor, loose-limbed, inventive, and propulsive, is Mazurek’s perfect foil, Taylor incarnating Ed Blackwell to Kupersmith’s Charlie Haden and Mazurek’s Cherry. The title track then takes a left turn into electronic territory with mournful muted cornet heard against the funky electronic groove that develops from an abstract intro. In addition, “Zagreb” adopts an oasis-like calm, while the trio’s delicate improvisatory approach to “Kite” recalls The Art Ensemble of Chicago. What’s also appealing is that the nine succinct tracks never overstay their welcome. Sometimes a track even ends too soon, a case in point “Pear,” which features Kupersmith’s restrained lines as supple support for Mazurek’s funereal playing; the piece ends Slon sombrely, in perfect keeping with the recording’s dedicatory tone.

April 2004