The Squid's Ear Magazine

Chicago Underground Quartet: Good Days (Astral Spirits)

19 years after the last Chicago Underground Quartet album, this session with Rob Mazurek on piccolo trumpet, electronics & bells, Jeff Parker on electric guitar, and Chad Taylor on drums, percussion and newcomer Josh Johnson on synth bass & keys is a warm reunion, with individual compositions from Taylor, Mazurek & Parker, and two solo pieces by Mazurek and Taylor.

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product information:

Label: Astral Spirits
Catalog ID: AS125CD
Squidco Product Code: 29224

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2020
Country: USA
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold
Recorded at BIG EGO, in Long Beach California, on July 6th, 2018, by Devin O'Brien. Additional recording on March 14th and July 9th, 2019.


Josh Johnson-synth bass, organ, piano

Rob Mazurek-piccolo trumpet, electronics, bells

Jeff Parker-electric guitar

Chad Taylor-drums, percussion

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Sample The Album:

Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"On May 13, 2000 the Chicago Underground Quartet played one of the most searing and transcendent sets of music I've ever witnessed, as part of the Empty Bottle Festival of Jazz & Improvised Music. Cornetist Rob Mazurek, guitarist Jeff Parker, drummer Chad Taylor, and bassist Noel Kupersmith performed with a fiery singularity of purpose, ripping through its set like a bulldozer, albeit a machine marked by nuance and soulfulness. The following year the same line-up-which had previously made two albums for Delmark as the Chicago Underground Trio despite, with Parker nominally billed as a guest-dropped its eponymous debut on Thrill Jockey, serving up one of the strongest entries in the city's modern history. Little did anyone know it would be nineteen years for the follow-up to surface. While Mazurek and Taylor continued to work together as the Chicago Underground Duo, and those two and Parker would occasionally collaborate in other contexts, it took a savvy maneuver by the Los Angeles producer, guitarist, and songwriter Chris Schlarb to bring all three together again for the first time in nearly two decades. Parker also enlisted saxophonist and keyboardist Josh Johnson-a Chicago native now based in LA, who plays in the guitarist's New Breed band-to hold down the bass function, using a Rheem Kee Bass as well as adding depth with various keyboards.

Working on a recording for his long-running Psychic Temple project that featured four diverse bands and artists in collaboration (Cherry Glazerr, the Dream Syndicate and rapper Xololanxinco), he gathered the erstwhile core of the Chicago Underground Quartet at his BIG EGO studio to participate. In exchange he offered to produce a new session by the band, nonchalantly fomenting a low-key reunion. Unlike the previous recordings by the band, which had been preceded by rigorous rehearsals and steady gigging by a working combo, this time the musicians site-read tunes each player brought in, ran through some arrangements, and recorded the album in a single day. "It sounds cohesive in the same way as when we were actually a working band," says Parker. "You can hear it, we're a lot better now."

While only Taylor's loping, funky "Batida" was composed specifically for the session, older tunes Parker and Mazurek contributed were composed with one another in mind. The guitarist originally wrote the smolderingly beautiful "Good Days" for Mazurek, although the horn player wasn't available for the session that produced his sublime 2012 trio album Bright Light in Winter, while the latter realized he envisioned a role for Parker on his "Strange Wing" when he wrote it as part of a commission for the Novara Jazz Festival. Still, the group injects something new and distinctive into every piece, including the opener "Orgasm," an Alan Shorter tune from 1969 that Taylor first arranged for a 2018 project in Philadelphia, which toggles between groovy hypnosis and spacey yet tumultuous exploration. "Unique Spiral" by Mazurek takes on a very different vibe than the version featured on his 2019 acoustic quartet album Desert Encrypts Vol. 1, where it was titled "Encrypts 37." He plays piccolo trumpet across the entire session, transmitting a new timbre for the group. "On Jeff's ballad it fits on the horn so well, it feels like a bird singing," he says. "It's papery." Indeed, even at his most ferocious there's something delicate, even vulnerable, about his sound on this record.

The album also features a couple of solo pieces, including Mazurek's haunting invocation "All the Bells," where tart smears and sputters infect a brittle melody voiced over meditative chimes and metallic clatter, while Taylor's solo log drum piece "Lomé" taps into the same sort of African roots excursions he so deftly revealed on his 2018 solo album Myths and Morals. In fact, what becomes clear as the album progresses is how many tools, ideas, and abilities each musician has acquired since they last all worked together. "We all grew musically and everyone was super active in their own things," says Mazurek. "It didn't feel like any time had passed. The only thing different is that maybe everyone's concept of making music is stronger after twenty years, but still similar, at least for this thing. I've ventured into some real crazy shit, but I love playing melodies and doing song structures as much as making the noisiest non-structured thing ever."

"Those dudes are still some of my favorite musicians on the planet," says Parker. "Every time I see them it's like we're just picking up where we left off. We're all very good friends and it's very easy. It didn't feel any different to me."

"-Peter Margasak, from the liner notes

Also available on LP.

Artist Biographies

"Josh Johnson is a saxophonist, keyboardist, multi-instrumentalist and composer. He has performed extensively with the likes of Jeff Parker, Kiefer, Makaya McCraven, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Leon Bridges and Marquis Hill.

Johnson can be heard on records by all of these artists, as well as records from the Chicago Underground Quartet, Jeremy Cunningham, Mark de Clive-Lowe, Dawes, Dexter Story, Louis Cole and Joshua White. His debut record "Freedom Exercise" (featuring Gregory Uhlmann, Anna Butterss and Aaron Steele) will be released later in 2020.

Since 2018, Johnson has been the musical director, keyboardist and saxophonist for Leon Bridges, which has taken him to Europe, Asia and Australia. Highlights of his time with Bridges include sold-out performances at Radio City Music Hall, Greek Theater, and the Hollywood Bowl.

As a composer, Johnson has written music for many of his own projects, including the bands Snaarj and Holophonor, in addition to writing music for commercial use. He recently contributed arrangements to Sara Gazarek's album "Thirsty Ghost", which was nominated for two Grammy awards. In 2015 Johnson was commissioned to compose an hour-long piece by the Los Angeles Jazz Society. His resulting multi-media work "UNREST" takes an unflinching look at the 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest, and was premiered at the Angel City Jazz Festival.

Johnson currently resides in Los Angeles."

-Josh Johnson Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

"Rob Mazurek is an American electro-acoustic composer, cornetist, improviser and visual artist living in Chicago, Illinois. As a composer, Rob Mazurek has written over 300 original compositions over the past 30 years, and has released 55 recordings on various labels. He currently leads a number of ensembles, including Exploding Star Orchestra, Pharoah and the Underground (featuring Pharoah Sanders), Chicago Underground, Pulsar Quartet, São Paulo Underground, Skull Sessions, Sound Is Quintet, Starlicker, Mandarin Movie and Throne of the House of Good and Evil, each of which possesses its own distinct musical personality.

He has collaborated with a wide variety of artists, such as Bill Dixon, Pharoah Sanders, Mike Ladd, Roscoe Mitchell, Yusef Lateef, Fred Anderson, Naná Vasconcelos, Mamelo Sound System, Kassin and Marcelo Camelo and others. Additionally, Rob Mazurek works as a visual artist (incorporating sound, painting and video) with numerous international performances, exhibitions and artist residencies."

-Rob Mazurek Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

"Jeff Parker (born April 4, 1967) is an American jazz and rock guitarist based in Los Angeles. Parker is best known as an experimental musician, working with avant-garde electronic, rock, and improvisational groups.

Parker currently plays guitar in the post-rock group Tortoise and also was a founding member of the ensembles Isotope 217 and the Chicago Underground Trio in the 1990s and early 2000s. He is also a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, as well as working with musicians George Lewis, Ernest Dawkins, Brian Blade, Joshua Redman, Fred Anderson (musician) and Jason Moran. He has released three solo albums: Like-Coping, The Relatives and Bright Light in Winter."

-Wikipedia (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

"Chad Taylor (b. 1973) is a composer, educator, percussionist and scholar who is a co-founder of the Chicago Underground ensembles. Originally from Tempe, AZ, Chad grew up in Chicago where he started performing professionally at the age of 16. Chad has performed with Fred Anderson, Derek Bailey, Cooper-Moore, Pharoah Sanders, Marc Ribot, Peter Brotzmann, Malachi Favors and many others. Chad leads his own band Circle down which debut recording was given a 5 star review by All music:

"What is remarkable is that there is no wasted motion, no histrionics or grandstanding, as pure emotion is translated to superlative music making on this most highly recommended recording, one for the ages."

Chad has a BFA from the New School in Jazz Performance and a MFA in Jazz Research and History from Rutgers University."

-Chad Taylor Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

Track Listing:

1. Orgasm 05:35

2. Strange Wing 08:05

3. Good Days (For Lee Anne) 02:54

4. Batida 02:41

5. All The Bells 04:00

6. Unique Spiral 05:34

7. Lome 05:11

8. Westview 03:59

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
Chicago Jazz & Improvisation
Quartet Recordings
Solo Artist Recordings
Recordings featuring brass instruments - trumpets, trombones, tubas, other horns
Percussion & Drums
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