Because cornetist Rob Mazurek and drummer Chad Taylor both come from the jazz sphere, it's usually tempting to lump their collective work as Chicago Underground Duo in that particular genre. The problem is it is only one of the elements that CUD employs in the music they've made over the last 15 years together. Age of Energy, the group's debut on Northern Spy, is a case in point. In addition to a drum kit, Taylor plays a drum machine and other electronics. Mazurek plays cornet, mbira, and various electronics. They recorded the album live, and added minimal overdubs in post-production. The end result of the pair's evolved attitude about music making and improvisation is deeply focused and intuitive. "Winds Sweeping Pines," clocking in at 20 minutes, is nearly half the album's length. It is not a single track, but four interlocking pieces that create one, utilizing almost every item in their arsenal at one time or another. Their reliance on lo-fi, analog electronics, with layers of effects delays added to loop them, and a precise notion of space, offer the players an opportunity to improvise without worrying about the added responsibility of a bass. They either compensate or ignore it. In its first three parts, "Wind Sweeping Pines" showcases abstract electronics and percussion. Mazurek's cornet enters frantically in the last fourth, spattering another kind of polyrhythmic interplay as he moves toward Taylor and the synthetic sounds. At nearly 11 minutes, the drift and wash of "It's Alright," with massively adorned vocals by Mazurek singing the title, is dislocating yet haunting, seemingly lush, and always beautiful. "Castle in Your Heart," the set's shortest track, features a near duet of treated mbira and muted cornet, but its electronic effects are as important as the instruments; it bridges them. The title track, which closes the set, is a frenetic improvisation with a pulsing electronic drone annexed to other vibrational sounds and Taylor's intense, circular rhythmic drumming. Mazurek's cornet, which is doubled, enters at the halfway point, soloing freely into the din as the electronic pulses become their own kind of bassline. Eventually, distortion decays it all into a vibrational silence. Age of Energy contains so many tiny sonic and musical elements, it's impossible to classify, but that's its strong point. This is modern music at its most inventive, allowing CUD to create its own vocabulary.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek