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Artist: São Paulo Underground
Date Released: May 9, 2006
- Sauna: Um, Dios, Três
- The Realm of the Ripper
- Black Liquor
- Balão de Gás
- Numa Grana
“…I am trying to find those frequencies that project both visually and sonically. I have a history like anybody has a history but I choose not to think on this but to constantly move in one of many directions and none at all. I am a human trying to locate things and crack them.” - Rob Mazurek in an interview with Italian weekly Succoacido.
Mazurek describes his musical approach in contradictions, “how to evolve that and get to an area that is wide as it is tall, as small as it is big and dense as hell and not at all… A thing with time not really existing but perhaps constantly folding on itself or in on itself, etc.” The forward-thinking proto-Renaissance man spends his life creating in a variety of mediums from his magnificent cornet playing to abstract paintings to digitally constructed soundscapes to multi-media projects of every kind. He tends to combine these methods whenever possible as well, like his “Music for Shattered Light Box and 7 Posters” installment, where a light source is reflected off his paintings and the resulting light-wave manipulation is translated into sound frequencies creating a aural-visual experience like no other. His music, whether with any configuration of the Chicago Underground collective or Mandarin Movie or Isotope 217 or as simply a contributor, always adheres to this multi-medium aesthetic, transforming his surroundings into music. That’s why his current home in Brazil is especially important, because you can guarantee that he is absorbing his environment and the influence will present itself in aural form. And as if on cue, the São Paulo Underground appears, a project featuring percussionist and electronics manipulator Mauricio Takara of Hurtmold and M. Takara as well as a slew of local Brazilian musicians. The music, as expected, his heavily influenced by Brazil and it’s wide variety of traditions and customs, especially the rebellious Tropicália, the heavily percussive maracatu and Brazil’s most famous native style, samba. Of course Mazurek and Takara also enlist their personal styles deriving from free jazz, minimalist electronica and dub. The Underground’s first album, Sauna: Um, Dios, Três, was released on May 9 through the Portland’s Aesthetic label in the US. Rob Mazurek is a true product of Chicago’s immensely variant music scene. He was schooled at the Bloom School of Jazz and at a young age developed an acute ear for improvisation and the ability to transfer his cornet into a wide variety of musical styles. His initial influence was with Blue Note’s premier hard-bop trumpeters, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, etc. But, as with any absorbent young mind, he began to explore further into the wide possibilities of jazz where he discovered free jazz cornet player Don Cherry and local avant-garde heros, the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In the mid 90s, with his ever-growing repertoire of styles, Mazurek formed weekly jam sessions that resulted in the Chicago Underground collective featuring Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker, Brokeback bassist Noel Kupersmith and drummer Chad Taylor among others. Also during this productive time period, he contributed his skills to bands of all genres including Tortoise, Gastr del Sol, Stereolab and Sam Prekop to name a few as well as being a main force in the cultivating of Chicago’s popular fringe-rock scene. Shortly there after, the jazz-funk fusion band Isotope 217 was formed, letting Mazurek, Parker and others stem out into even further musical ideas. His latest project, other than São Paulo, is Mandarin Movie, a Sun Ra-influenced escapade of experimental electronica, free jazz and hard-bop also released on the Aesthetic label. All the while, Mazurek continually traveled, making friends all across the US as well as in France, Italy and Brazil, taking bits of influence from each person and location he came across. Sauna: Um, Dios, Três is as collage of Brazilian influences and ideas, taking as much significant inspiration from Pernambuco’s colorful Afro-Brazilian maracatu nação performances as São Paulo impossibly dense traffic jams. In just one song, styles weave in and out of electronic noise while Takara holds down a drumbeat buried softly in the background, Mazurek’s cornet appears sporadically adding a splash of color to the musique concrète, and instruments are reversed creating sweeping brush strokes that lavishly paint over mysteriously dubbed vocals. You can hear Gilberto Gil’s mutinous Tropicália calling for a just government, Lee “Scratch” Perry’s quirky dub giving comic relief to his people living in extreme poverty and John Cage’s aleatoric compositions leaving audiences both confused and intrigued. Mazurek and Takara masterfully fuse these otherwise unconnected genres into as Mazurek would put it, “constantly [moving] in one of many directions and none at all.” The opening title track introduces the album with panning electronic hum, a detached, ghostly voice and brooding free jazz attacking from every side. This surprisingly evolves into an enchanting musical array that decomposes into a coda that wouldn’t be out of place on a Tortoise album. Pombaral begins with a samba-flavored cornet solo before Takara’s engrossing drums and dual subdued guitars point the song into a post-rock direction. The latter half of the nine minute track deteriorates into eerie electronic noise before coming full circle. The third song, The Realm of the Ripper, acts as an unfocused transition of repeating synthesizer lines and various ethnic percussion into one of the album’s most enticing tracks, Olhosss... Being the only song that solely features Mazurek and Takara, you would think that it would be more restrained, but these are musicians of many talents and the song reflects that perfectly. Beginning with layered snyth pads and a buried and reverberating drum pattern, Olhosss... completely changes directions at the three minute mark, sparking an animated blend of vibrating cornet, twinkling sine waves and flickering programmed percussion. Afrihouse is definitely the most ethnic song of the bunch, and at times even reflects Fela Kuti’s afrobeat, Balão de Gás strategically combines musique concrète with Afro-Brazilian percussion and chanting, and the album wraps up with a very quiet track featuring the manipulated voice of a man simply credited as ‘Chico.’ Albums like this one are significant because such rich musical explorations don’t come along everyday, but neither do musicians like Mauricio Takara and Rob Mazurek. Sauna: Um, Dios, Três in a way draws a direct line between Chicago and São Paulo revealing similarities we would otherwise never even consider. It is extremely important to not only realize other cultures, especially ones as artistically rich as Brazil’s, but to also embrace them as our own, because while we may be separated by thousands of miles of land and sea, we are all human beings and all share that same instinctive artistic sense. In this case, Mazurek is acting as a sort of diplomat, showing both sides the similarities between themselves, all the while creating something completely new we can both claim as our own. Because just like all of us, Mazurek is just “a human trying to locate things and crack them.” Mpardaiolo
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