Forward-thinking jazz fans are lucky these days to be so close to Chicago: That city's scene is soaring, and a five-hour drive is all that separates us from some great Chicago players. At the center of this resurgence is a group of musicians centered around the group Tortoise, and many of them will be coming to St. Louis for a performance thrown by this city's Third Lip Cabaret. What exactly is "forward-thinking jazz" in 2000? In the case of both the Chicago Underground Duo (Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor) and Isotope 217 (Dan Bitney, John Herndon, Matthew Lux, Mazurek and Jeff Parker -- three of the five members are also in Tortoise), it's the willingness to meld electronic and acoustic instruments, to merge elements of free jazz, techno, rock and whatnot into a new form -- in essence, to forego accepted structures (or, in the case of free jazz, the lack thereof) and build some new ones from scratch.Fans of Miles Davis' late-'60s and early-'70s work will hear an echo in both outfits, because, like him, both Isotope and the Duo borrow and steal (quite a bit of it from Davis). On Isotope's recent Who Stole the I Walkman? (Thrill Jockey), a more pensive record than their previous one, Utonian Automatic, they introduce curious sounds immediately -- a Fender Rhodes (or what sounds like one) dances with a few blips, a synthetic click and other strange sounds until the lot of them merge into futuristic, freako Muzak. It's not like any jazz you've ever heard before -- if it even is indeed jazz. The Chicago Underground Duo opened for Stereolab at the Firehouse this spring, and the two musicians filled the room with sound, largely through their use of synthesizers, samplers and effects, all of which fattened their sound and offered them a fresh palette from which to work.
Also on the bill are St. Louisans Mark Deutsch, Eric Hall, Michael Marwit and DJ Ses. This should be a great show.