This is the seventh album by Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor as the Chicago Underground Duo, although they have collaborated with other musicians on albums as the Chicago Underground Trio, Quartet, and Orchestra. The Duo put on a great live show and I saw them at a small club in Chicago back in the ‘90s. Mazurek and Taylor have also collaborated with other Thrill Jockey bands and musicians, such as Isotope 217, The Sea and Cake, and Tortoise. The Chicago Underground Duo are solidly an experimental, avant-garde jazz group, but at times there are influences of some of these other projects, such as the melodic vibraphone-like sound on “Yaa Yaa Kole,” which also sounds a bit like Isotope 217. Or some of the more electronic-influenced sounds that are reminiscent of Tortoise or Isotope.
This is a diverse album and is not an easy listen, although there are some great songs on the album. Personally I tend to like the more melodic songs like “Yaa Yaa Kole,” or the loopy sound, with poppy drums, and catchy horn of “Boss.” “Kabuki” is interesting, sometimes catchy, sometimes repetitive, sometimes a little irritating, reminding me of The Residents. Missing is the nice, long song or songs that are typically on a Chicago Underground album, like the twelve minute “Blue Sparks From Her and the Scent of Lightning,” from Synesthesia, or the nine minute, “Two Concepts for the Storage of Light,” from Axis and Alignment. The longest song on Locus is “Blink Out,” at 5:44.The album ends with “Dante,” which does have a tense, claustrophobic feel, filled with struggle and plodding, as Dante’s journey through Hell and Purgatory were in The Divine Comedy, and it ends with a brief, beautiful expansiveness, like the sun shining through the clouds, or Dante’s illumination.
It is a beautiful, catchy, challenging and dissonant album. Definitely experimental jazz and experiments are often risky and don’t always pay off, even when creative, but it is great when it all comes together.