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Rob Mazurek and Tortoise: New Chicago

Mark Corroto By

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The "Chicago sound" may be a misnomer when used to describe the music of cornetist Rob Mazurek and the band Tortoise, but the unpretentious experimentalism of both sits foursquare in the city's musical tradition. Chicago has nurtured innovative artists from trumpeter Louis Armstrong through keyboardist Sun Ra. The Chicago-based AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) meanwhile is a touchstone for not only the new music of the 1960s, but also for the return of Chicago jazz to the improvised music vanguard in the 1990s, a revitalisation which is continuing into the new millennium.

Rob Mazurek
Sound Is

Rob Mazurek has carved a niche in new music that began with bebop, edged into progressive rock and then exploded into free improvisation. His early Chicago roots found him playing with Gastr del Sol, Tortoise on TNT (Thrill Jockey, 1998), and recording with Tortoise's guitarist Jeff Parker in the Chicago Underground Orchestra. Here he taps Tortoise's drummer John Herndon into his new quintet with electric bassist Matthew Lux (Exploding Star Orchestra), acoustic bassist Josh Abrams (Nicole Mitchell, Mike Reed) and soon-to-be superstar vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz.

Mazurek's Sound Is first steps in the footprints of fellow Chicagoan Roscoe Mitchell's manifesto Sound (Delmark , 1966), before veering off into new directions. The cornetist, a faithful student of Bill Dixon, has matured into a technically skilled composer and dexterous player. He can play skittering notes that flash brightly or manage a mute, painting somber hues of emotion. His love of the smash and scatter sound is evident on "Beauty Wolf" and "Aphrodite Rising." With Mazurek's coming-of-age as a player, he can hold together these outward sections.

He is also adept at making the more accessible interesting. The progressive sounds of "The Dream Rocker" and "The Field" hold the listener's attention, with the fiery drumming of Herndon on "Rocker" and with Adasiewicz's solos on both. Mazurek's presence can be heard on the latter, playing off-mike, but like trumpeter Miles Davis before him, his whispers are not to go unnoticed.

Visit Rob Mazurek on the Web.

Beacons Of Ancestorship
Thrill Jockey

After nearly twenty years of music making, the band Tortoise (on its sixth full length release) continues to define and redefine the term "post-rock." Beacons Of Ancestorship follows It's All Around You (Thrill Jockey, 2004) and the interim covers record The Brave And The Bold (Thrill Jockey, 2006), with Bonnie "Prince" Billy aka Will Oldham, and A Lazarus Taxon (Thrill Jockey, 2006), a four disc CD and DVD compilation of singles, remixes and rare sides.

True to their all-embracing nature the band members bring multiple approaches to the table. The recognizable guitar of Jeff Parker (Chicago Underground, Fred Anderson, Isotope 217) is featured throughout, as is the progressive rock language of drummer and keyboardist John McEntire (Sea And Cake, The Red Krayola). The band scoops a bit of synthesizer from over here and some distortion from over there to create mini capsules of music. These pills of sound are introduced as progressive rock meets jazz on "Prepare Your Coffin" or as a distortion rock anthem on "Yinxianghechengqi." They twist their take on Muslimgauze's dreamy territories with "Monument Six One Thousand" and drop an organ funeral dirge meets 1970s horror movie theme with the short-ish "De Chelly."

Tortoise's "such is life" attitude is reflected in "The Fall Of Seven Diamonds Plus One," whose homologous sounds replicate the Jackie Treehorn musical segment from the movie The Big Lebowski, complete with the dreamy guitar and native games. By the closing piece, "Charteroak Foundation," which could be identified as a Chicago Underground Trio outing, listeners having exhausted their connect the dots reference games will realize that Tortoise is summing up much of the music made since the late 1970s, while pushing in new and varied directions.

Visit Tortoise on the Web.

Tracks and Personnel

Sound Is

Tracks: As If An Angel Fell From The Sky; The Earthquake Tree; Dragon Kites; The Star Splitter; The Hill; Le Baiser (The Kiss); The Lightning Field; Cinnamon Tree; The Dream Rocker; Beauty Wolf; Microraptagonfly; Aphrodite Rising; The Field; Nora Grace.

Personnel: Rob Mazurek: cornet, synthesizer, piano; Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone; Matthew Lux: bass guitar; Josh Abrams: acoustic bass, piano; John Herndon: drums, percussion, tenori-on.

Beacons Of Ancestorship

Tracks: High Class Slim Came Floatin' In; Prepare Your Coffin; Northern Something; Gigantes; Penumbra; Yinxianghechengqi; The Fall Of Seven Diamonds Plus One; Minors; Monument Six One Thousand; De Chelly; Charteroak Foundation.

Personnel: Dan Bitney: bass, guitar, percussion, vibes, marimba, keyboards, baritone saxophone; John McEntire: drums, modular synthesizer, ring modulator guitar, electric harpsichord, keyboards; John Herndon: drums, vibraphone, keyboards, sequencing; Jeff Parker: guitar, bass; Doug McCombs: bass, six string bass, guitar, lap steel guitar.

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