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.
AAJ: Tell us about hanging out with Wynton Marsalisyou took a few lessons from him? What do you think about his overall work?
RM: I met Wynton when I was very young. I think in 1980-81 when I was 14-15 years old. I had already decided I wanted to play music. Wynton was very encouraging and invited me up to his room to play for him. That's when he suggested I buy Ornette Coleman's record, The Shape of Jazz to Come. Of course, I bought the record the next day. I remember those days at the old Jazz Showcase which was situated in the Blackstone Hotel. That time was so exciting. Meeting Wynton and Branford, Jeff Watts and Kenny Kirkland. Wynton would talk about Ornette all the time. I went to the show five nights in a row. They played many of Coleman's tunes and Wynton seemed to treat me as an equal. I would meet him for the following few years and practice and such.
AAJ: What does he think of your work now?
RM: I have no idea, my mind went the other directions a while ago and I lost contact with him.
AAJ: Casey Rice ( Silver Spines ) the engineer plays almost a collaborative role with you on past recordingsplease comment.
RM: Casey Rice is one of the most brilliant sounding people I know. He always comes up with good ideas and surprises. Of course he is able to get musical tones, his visual thing is excellent also. I always treat the engineer as a collaborator. Casey is always able to take my abstract thoughts and interpret them correctly, and usually expand on them also.
AAJ: Are you going to shift your artistic focus to the visual arts?
RM: At this point, it's all the same. The visual arts are sound and the music is visual. I am currently working on these projection blocks, which are 2 by 2 foot color squares with sound. There will be a performance and installation at the Chicago Cultural Center in the future. My thoughts are towards an integration of sound and color, matter, space and emotion.
The Silver Spines record is about objects in space and what's implied. Most of the sound is sculptural. I will be collaborating with landscape artist, architects, etc. in Sicily sometime in April for a project.
AAJ: How successful is your visual art?
RM: I guess that depends what you mean. I have been painting now for about eight years. I have been reluctant to show any of this except on record covers (Chicago Underground Duo, Synesthesia and Axis and Alignment along with an Isotope 217 remix recording) and to my friends. The only thing I did show at Carrie Secrist Gallery in Chicago sold almost immediately. I don't know, I feel like I have succeeded at times, but not before weeks and months of being uncertain.
AAJ: Why do you think of yourself as a "sound engineer" instead of being a cornetist?
RM: I think you mean "sound generator". It goes way deeper than that. Ever since I started delving into the world of electronics my head has been constantly preoccupied with the notion of everything being inter-connected. Of course this is nothing new, it's all over Buddhist philosophy, etc., which I was practicing earnestly for about 10 years. Sound is sound, color is sound, sound is color. I, of course, have many years on the cornet but so what. Who Cares! The only thing that matters for me is what I hear or what I see or smell and feel? I am also trying to locate the frequencies that best correspond to color and sight, etc., hoping that at some point these two areas might merge into something fantastic. Sound has also taken on quite a sculptural quality. Most of my more concrete pieces embody this; they are more about mass and volume than anything else.
Visit Rob Mazurek on the web at www.robmazurek.com .