At the end of Playing Changes is a list: The 129 Essential Albums of the Twenty-First Century (So Far). I organized these by year, and then alphabetically by artist name. I'll be running them down here, in that order. (No one appears more than once as a leader, though there’s ample overlap in personnel.)
The Chicago Underground Duo — Rob Mazurek on cornet and electronics, Chad Taylor on drums and percussion — already had a robust following by 2001, when its frame expanded to accommodate two fellow travelers. They were guitarist Jeff Parker and bassist Noel Kupersmith, both associated with an array of instrumental bands in the post-rock realm, notably Tortoise, Brokeback and Isotope 217.
Parker and Kupersmith do more than flesh out the sound of the group. Their addition brings the music of the Chicago Underground unit into more direct contact with the post-bop lineage — not by guided intention, but still in practical and discernible ways. Still, this is a music whose otherworldly qualities ring clear and true, pointing toward a school of electro-acoustic hybridism that we now take a little too much for granted.
Below, find the opening track from the album, a stark invention called "Tunnel Chrome." Beginning with an arpeggiated tumble of notes from Parker, who also takes the first solo, it reaches its apex during an improvisation by Mazurek, who runs his cornet through some sort of digital filter. (I've played this track for a few folks who swore it was a synthesizer solo.)
Mazurek and Taylor have continued their work as the Chicago Underground Duo, and each has been a vital contributor to the improvised-music scene at large. Parker, who will turn up again in the Essential Albums list, has been a restless creative soul, both as a bandleader and a sideman. Chicago Underground Quartet points clearly to a moment when the work of these artists was just converging in fascinating ways — prophesying a musical future that we've had the good fortune to inhabit.