This is guitarist Mark O'Leary's seventh release on Leo Records -- and his seventh different trio project. Each previous album has documented his playing with key figures of creative jazz, from Matthew Shipp and Mat Maneri to Tomasz Stanko, Billy Hart, Uri Caine, Steve Swallow and Cuong Vu, to name only a few. Radio Free Europa is no different, even though this particular grouping bears a name (the other six are all credited to O'Leary and the other musicians involved). Then again, this is a Chicago-based project, so christening it Underground Jazz Trio is surely a wink at Rob Mazurek's contribution to the city's \avant-jazz scene, especially since O'Leary's colleagues on this recording have been part of that scene for a while too: Tortoise drummer John Herndon and bassist Matt Lux from Isotope 217. Recorded in April 2006, Radio Free Europa is darker and more brooding than previous O'Leary releases. In fact, it has a strange film noir feel. Every piece remains rather quiet, not quite menacing yet disquieting. The guitarist churns out a near-uninterrupted stream of instant melodies, never quite locking onto a specific tonality, yet always somewhat tonal and graceful, while Herndon and Lux adopt a textural form of free improvisation. In the opener "Reaching Out," Lux attempts a walking bassline that quickly dissolves into something else, and in the closer "Collateral," O'Leary opts for an ambient, attack-less tone reminiscent of David Torn. Everywhere else, the music remains as previously described, with the guitarist doing his thing and the rhythm section doing theirs, the two camps tiptoeing around each other, producing enjoyable abstract jazz music in the process, but never really engaging one another. As a result, Radio Free Europa is a bit too homogeneous and a notch below O'Leary's previous Leo releases, especially the beautiful Waiting.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture