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Rob Mazurek: Desert Encrypts Vol. 1

Karl Ackermann By

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It was twenty-five years ago, in 1994, that Rob Mazurek first emerged with Man Facing East (Hep Jazz), a quartet recording solidly positioned in the post/hard bop style. Even in the interpretations of standards, there were clues that the cornetist/composer was a restless soul. In the intervening years, Mazurek has rapidly charted his own dissident destiny as a multi-media artist of uncompromising vision while fronting more than a dozen groups of all shapes and sizes. In his perpetual creativity, Mazurek now gives listeners the Marfa Trilogy of which this album, Desert Encrypts Vol. 1 represents the (mostly) acoustic component of three albums.

The quartet here is stellar; the extraordinary percussionist Chad Taylor, the other half of Mazurek's Chicago Underground Duo and its off-shoots, meets up with two of the leading artists in improvised music: pianist Kris Davis and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. The prolific Davis has produced a striking catalog of music. Her Paradoxical Frog trio with saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and drummer Tyshawn Sorey has released two eclectic and intriguing albums. The critical acclaimed Davis has worked in the upper tier of the avant-garde with Nate Wooley, Tony Malaby, Angelica Sanchez, Bill Frisell, Tim Berne, Craig Taborn, and Mary Halvorson among her collaborators. Haker Flaten is the long-time co-leader of The Thing with reed player Mats Gustafsson and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love; the trio, as of 2019, is on hiatus. He has recorded with Atomic, James Blood Ulmer, Dave Rempis, Frode Gjerstad, Joe McPhee, and the Magnus Broo Trio.

Desert Encrypts Vol. 1 is a two-part suite inspired by Mazurek's natural surroundings in Marfa, Texas, near the Mexican border. Known for its mysterious, shape-shifting "Marfa ghost lights," it seems a perfect location for an artist who has drawn much of his inspiration from the unknown. The ten-minute opening piece, "Encrypt II Spiral," has a nimbleness to it that inhabits quarters different from much of Mazurek's recent non-electronica. It has the sultry flavor and sense of satisfaction that might be anticipated in his São Paulo Underground work. The entire quartet has beautifully expressive solos and Mazurek and Davis share the driving time. The pianist maintains control through much of the subsequent "Encrypt II," a more loosely constructed piece where Mazurek's piccolo trumpet sets up a mid-point interlude.

"Encrypt IV Bird Encrypt Morning Song" could be the soundtrack for the ghost lights. Moving through several related motifs, it is both edgy and pastoral; the interaction between Mazurek and Davis is as wonderous as the wide-eyed atmosphere it creates. The architecture is less familiar on "Encrypt IV Blue Haze," a mesmerizing electro-acoustic mix with a spoken-word reading from Lynn Xu, and Mazurek taking the piece out with an unexpected western theme. Another double-digit length track, "Encrypt 37" is bifurcated along lines of intense and hard-swinging concepts, and two extended reflections from Davis. The album concludes with the open improvisations of "Encrypt I," featuring a terrific solo from Taylor.

Mazurek makes music in many guises. It is properly difficult to compare his collections side-by-side, but in a derivative of creative music we will call "jazz" Desert Encrypts Vol. 1 is one of his finest projects. Creating open space and drawing the ears into it, only to find nothing recognizable, is what Mazruek does better than anyone. His visual artistry plays a larger role in his music with each new venture. Davis is simply phenomenal as foil or leader, as the music may dictate. She can turn a nuance into a substantial encounter midstream. Taylor and Haker Flaten masterfully add textures in the midst of frequently shifting rhythmic notions, contributing greatly to developing very complex ideas.

Desert Encrypts Vol. 1 was recorded live at Mazurek's Desert Encrypts Festival in 2018, with Britt Mazurek producing. One can only hope that "Vol. 1" means more to come. Highly recommended.

Track Listing: Encrypt II Spiral 10:35; Encrypt II; Encrypt IV Bird Encrypt Morning Song; Encrypt IV Blue Haze; Encrypt 37; Encrypt I.

Personnel: Rob Mazurek: piccolo trumpet, electronics; Kris Davis: piano; Chad Taylor: drums; Ingebrigt Haker Flaten: bass; Lynn Xu: spoken word (4).

Title: Desert Encrypts Vol. 1 | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Astral Spirits

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