São Paulo Underground Três Cabeças Loucuras

[Cuneiform; 2011]

Styles: post-rock, creative improvisation
Others: Chicago Underground, Exploding Star Orchestra, Starlicker, Tortoise

Sometimes musical taxonomies just don’t work, and for that we can be thankful. At the same time, for someone like Rob Mazurek who traverses with ease his own musical interests without regard for genre, the jazz and rock press (let alone some fellow musicians) don’t exactly know what to do with him. As a cornetist and improvising composer, he’s done some incredible work with the late Bill Dixon (1925-2010) and his own large ensemble, The Exploding Star Orchestra (a Chicago who’s who). That music could certainly be codified loosely within the realm of vanguard jazz and improvisation. But Mazurek is too invested in rock and pop music to not do something with it, and that “something” is what imbues his Underground projects.

Both the Chicago Underground and São Paulo Underground started as duets for cornet, drums and electronics — the former joining Mazurek with Chad Taylor, the latter with Brazilian Mauricio Takara. There’s something that Dixon said that explains a cross-genre affinity between his work and Mazurek’s, though, even if Dixon was not much interested in rock and pop music: “I think of [sound] as a cube-like thing, that if it were possible I could walk into the sound and play in it like that. It goes someplace and is a collection of something — why wouldn’t it have a width, height, while also having all the instruments on the same level? Let your ear select where it wants to go. You walk into a party and if you want to hear what someone is saying, you focus on them.” Mazurek’s music (and his visual art) focuses on a colorist three-dimensionality that is able to put forth both gauzy thinness and a hell of a lot of mass.

Três Cabeças Loucuras is São Paulo Underground’s third record and first for Cuneiform following two for the Aesthetics label. The group is now expanded, featuring keyboardist Guilherme Granado, drummer Richard Ribiero, and guitarist Kiko Dinucci on eight compositions. Chicagoans Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), John Herndon (drums) and Matt Lux (bass) also appear on two of the pieces. The opening “Jagoda’s Dream” stitches together Tropicália and Windy City post-rock in a seamless, bright fusion of the type that was hinted at on Tortoise’s TNT. Indeed, motorik keyboards, sunny guitar strums, and relentless John McEntire-esque fast waltz are indicative of a minimalist rock sensibility, while Mazurek’s electronically-processed cornet is set apart in both plaintive whines and violent screams. “Carambola” initially recalls something out of an Eumir Deodato LP, albeit updated with crisp, layered electronics. The tune has a cottony, funky lilt with Dinucci’s flinty guitar out front while brass, keyboards, and laptop-generated sounds advance and recede into a swirling breakdown that, while piled on, also has no small amount of intricacy. It’s all carried along by skipping, near-free rhythms toward a fractured, popping conclusion.

Delicate strums and electronic wisps herald “Colibri,” with Tiago Mesquita’s lyrics sung in a hushed, faraway manner, peeking out from behind/within a cloudy rustle. Mazurek begins to shape the melody further as chunky analog electronics and a Rashied Ali-like surge build a tremendous undertow and the tune becomes a rallying anthem. The vibrant “Just Lovin’” brings the Underground’s percussive qualities to the fore, with vibraphone, marimba, and up to three drummers bolstering Dinucci’s acoustic guitar flits and Mazurek’s fat, cutting call, repeating and interlocking layers forming a carpeted groove. There’s something of the cornetist’s Sound Is on “Six Six Eight,” where the ensemble is slightly pared down to vibes, drums, electric bass, and electronics, as Mazurek’s fluffs and crumpled runs skitter across tumbling, glassy rhythms. Adasiewicz — one of the Chicago jazz scene’s leading lights — gets a solo spot, ringing droplets pelting a dense collective whorl before the theme’s catchy refrain returns. The closing “Rio Negro” interpolates overdubbed and processed brass in a way that is reminiscent of composers George Russell and Don Ellis, as keyboard gloop and crunching rhythms give the music a strange lurch and contrast Mazurek’s humanity with dark cacophony. São Paulo Underground certainly gives flesh to Mazurek’s visions and colors in a truly unique and interesting way, but it’s also important to remember that this is a music that’s collectively arrived at, with players and approaches in a continual dance of foreground, background, and allover-ness irrespective of “genre.” Taxonomies be damned.

Links: Cuneiform

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