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Sao Paulo Underground: Sauna: Um, Dois, Tres

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Expatriate Chicagoan cornetist/composer Rob Mazurek has been on an impressive run of musical projects and recordings; recent Mandarin Movie and Chicago Underground Duo releases pretty strongly undermine any notion that his move to Manaus, Brazil has been anything but inspiring. Sauna: Um, Dois, Três, the debut from Mazurek's new Underground collaboration with Brazilian drummer/programmer/trumpeter Mauricio Takara, is a fascinating, richly textured set that combine the best elements of real-time live instrumentation and electronica-saturated studio composition.

A host of other musicians augment Mazurek and Takara's contributions: Wayne Montana and Damon Locks of Chicago's Eternals, São Paulo avant-gardists like Marcos Axe and Tiago Mesquita, and Chicago Underground other-half Chad Taylor, whose almost mythically potent drum kit work often acts as the keystone to this music—no matter how studio-altered or chopped-up the final results may be.

The opening "Sauna: Um Dois, Três very effectively lays out some of the sonic conditions that will prevail over the course of the recording. Computer blorps and muttered Mesquita spoken-word vocals segue into whirling trumpets, laptop-manipulated kit drum and looped synth noise. The overall effect is surgingly surreal, whirlingly dense and quite ecstatically beautiful, even before a chiming ostinato swims out from the sonic lagoon to close the track. There's nothing natural-sounding about the drums here, yet their original kit-played existence is always audible. Similarly, even in this wildly synthetic ambience, the song has a feeling of absolutely musical occurrence and composition.

"Pombaral has just as unrealistic an ambience, but its first half is essentially a band performance—even if the musicians were recorded weeks or months apart. Mazurek's a cappella cornet (repeated in eerie echo a half-second later on the right channel) pulls in thunderous drums, Josh Abrams' thick electric bass, and crunching, comping guitar. There's nothing terribly new about Mazurek's cornet lines here, but within this context, his trademark licks shine in the refracted light of their new surroundings. The song effectively dissolves at the midway point and becomes more abstractly gauzy as electronic effects and feedback and static fill the aural frame and instruments blur into one another—before the cornet theme (yes, this song has a jazz head of sorts) resharpens the focus to end the piece.

"Olhossss... features long, sighing organ over a human drum pattern until a bracing electronic rhythm takes over and the song, well, gets down in a fractal soup of heavily effected muted cornet and warbling keys. Listeners seeking harmonic devolopment and resolution here are going to be stymied. Otherworldly beauty and the sheer pleasure of sound, however, can be found here in abundance.

The above descriptions don't really do justice to Sauna's benevolent, utopian blending of jazz, dub, IDM electronica and Brazilian maracatu—to name only a few genres running through the record. Certainly, the sheer overriding musicality here will be a tonic to those who have found a great deal of contemporary electronica to sound more programmed than played. No music could sound more human.

Visit Rob Mazurek on the web.


Track Listing: Sauna: Um, Dois, Tres; Pombaral; The Realm Of The Ripper; Olhossss...; Afrihouse; Black Liquor; Bat

Personnel: Rob Mazurek: cornet, electronics; Mauricio Takara: percussion, electronics; Marcos Axe: percussion, voice, samplers, guitars, synthesizers; Tiago Mesquita: percussion, voice, samplers, guitars, synthesizers; Wayne Montana: synthesizers; Damon Locks: synthesizers; Josh Abrams: electric bass; Chad Taylor: drums.

Title: Sauna: Um, Dois, Tres | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Aesthetics

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