Rob Mazurek is one of jazz's most enigmatic improvisers. A former hard bopper who now dabbles beyond the avant-garde in elements of "musique concrete" and multi-media. Mazurek is a Chicagoan but a world traveler now residing in Brazil (with his wife). Beneath the surface contradictions lies an artists' vision that is at once restless and well honed.
His discography includes Orton Socket (electronica and sound manipulation) and the ever expanding conceptual group Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Quartet Orchestra along with the post funk of Isotope 217.
All About Jazz: What made you move to Brazil? Are you able to keep your music active?
Rob Mazurek: My wife is Brazilian and it was time for a change. I am absolutely active! Working on sound constructions, practicing, conceptualizing and painting everyday, all day. It's wonderful!
AAJ: Several years ago there was talk of the merging of the so called jazz avant-garde with "alternative" rock. This was supposed to be embodied by labels like Thrill Jockey. Did you see much spill over with the two audiences?
RM: Yes I did, most all of our people who come to the shows are young. We also get a lot of University airplay so this helps. Plus, the fact that we are not really a jazz band. We are a mixture of many things. Playing rock clubs, galleries, culture centers and universities.
AAJ: Am I correct in saying that some of the current re-investigation of Miles Davis electric period inspired your own band and also solo concepts?
RM: I would listen to '70s Miles records for hours and hours in my room when I was 13, 14, 15 years old. The last 8 years I have hardly listened to this music at all. I think sound that has been developed in the last years has been way more influenced by "music concrete" people like Francois Bayle and Luc Ferrari; Pierre Henry, etc... and also by Pan Sonic, Autechre, Kevin Drumm, Fennesz, Jim O'Rourke, Peter Rheberg, Tortoise, Miko Vanino, Carston Nicola, etc..., at least from my own perspective.
I can't listen to Miles anymore. I love it too much. There has been no re-investigation on my part of electric Miles.
AAJ: What was it like coming up initially playing hard bop with Chicago legends like Lin Halliday and young upstarts - Eric Alexander in contrast to hitting with the "outcats"?
RM: I actually lived with Lin Halliday for a while and hanging out, learning and playing with him was a fantastic experience. Playing jazz early on was really a challenge for me. It doesn't contrast with the things I would do with Chicago Underground ( Slon review). I shortly after made a pretty much complete cut from that strategy of playing. Of course it took quite some time before I could wrap my head around what I was looking for. It still is an incredible struggle to understand what it is you really want. I am always developing and always in this state of becoming. Visualization is so important at this stage of my career. I am still trying to find out what is not there.
AAJ: Do each of your projects (Isotope 217, Chicago Underground Orchestra) embody a different conceptual idea?
RM: The concepts come from the collective and then we refine them. Each unit has its own set of mind power. Of course each set of brains will work differently based on experience, etc..., depending on people's moods and influences and such at a given time. Yes, each unit has its own set of concepts and sounds. Nothing is concrete, it is always shifting. I compare it to an organic stream of information.
AAJ: Now that you live in Brazil, do you plan on continuing your musical associations, such as the Chicago Underground?
RM: Oh yes! The Underground tours year round and we have concepts for at least two more recordings. I plan on continuing associations with everybody regardless of locale. Chad lives in New York, Jeff lives in Chicago, Noel resides in Bordeaux, and I am now in Brasilia. This should make for a very interesting clash when we pool our thoughts and experiences in the various ways we correspond both musically and non-musically. Also, my association with Thrill Jockey and Delmark records; along with Michael Orlove at the Chicago Cultural Center, The Empty Bottle, Soma - will of course go on. Distance does not seem to be a problem in this age of information.
AAJ: Do you agree with New York Times critic, Adam Shatz's assessment that Chicago jazz is divided along racial lines - the South side is predominantly black; the North side is primarily white? Further, please comment if you agree that your work with Jeff Parker is one of the few examples of border crossing?
RM: I personally would rather not talk in these terms. I think border crossing happens with anybody or anything you allow in your life. If I wanted to correspond with anybody from anywhere I would do it and I do do it. Every person has a unique and complicated psychology that they need to deal with. The real borders are in the head.