São Paulo Underground – Tres Cabeças Loucuras (2011)

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photo courtesy of Cuneiform Records

When Chicago-based trumpeter/cornetist Rob Mazurek decided to dig deeper and absorb the rich and festive melodies of Brazilian music, he didn’t do so by merely listening to a bunch of Jobim records, hang out with some transplanted Brazilian musicians for a while or even visit the South American country for a short spell. No, Mazurek went all-in, living in Brazil for about five years during the first half of the 00s. What came from the fertile musical mind of Mazurek as a result of his extended exposure of the culture is a synthesis of the darker, psychedelic electro-acoustic jazz of his various Chicago Underground projects, and the folksier, sunnier and grounded harmonies of Brazilian music. And the vehicle for this strange, new product? The São Paulo Underground.

Last year, Mazurek made his third São Paulo Underground album, dubbed Tres Cabeças Loucuras, with his Brazilian cohorts Guilherme Granado (keyboards, electronics) and Mauricio Takara (drums, percussion, cavaquinho, electronics). Another Brazilian, Richard Ribeiro, adds more drums.

“Jagoda’s Dream” (YouTube below) is the love-at-first-listen song that deservedly kicks off this trippy-jazz Amazon adventure. A hard-driven, circular beat punctuated by three punches to the bass drum, Mazurek’s stroke of genius was to integrate both the dark textures of other Underground projects and the bright melodies of Brazil into a tightly constructed, catchy tune. His cornet rides that melody like Herb Alpert for much of the song, until he goes Art Farmer in the instrumental break, and then you realize there’s a serious jazzman behind this weirdly wonderful slice of inverted pop. That’s one song, but not descriptive of the album as a whole, unless the description is framed in very broad themes.

The eccentric use of electronics is often the single biggest factor making this music so hard to pigeonhole, except into the default “avant garde” category. “Pigeon” announces itself with a blizzard of circuit-bent noises, followed by a Brazilian repeating figure competing with buzzy electronic swirls. “Carambola,” like several other tracks, has a danceable groove perfectly suited for the Carnaval, even as it gets distorted, clipped, and put through an sonic blender at varying speeds. “Colibri” is actually a vocal song, and if you listen closely enough, you can hear the deeply submerged, shimmering voice nearly lost in the heavily reverbed mix. But that’s kind of the point: vivid, quivering sonic textures share the emphasis along with individual performances. “Just Lovin'” was molded from a loop by Granado; it’s a festive groove enhanced by an abundance of drums and percussion.

“Six Six Eight” is practically a summit meeting of the São Paulo Underground with some of Mazurek’s frequent Chicago collaborators: Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), John Herndon (drums) and Matthew Lux (bass guitar) — like the Rob Mazurek Quintet less acoustic bassist Josh Abrams — and the result is a propulsive tune that could have fit in nicely on Sound Is…, only with better percussion.

Tres Cabeças Loucuras received a lot of shout outs last year, and as one of the most truly original music of any release from 2011, it also has that rare combination of being singular and, in a lot of spots, catchy.

The São Paulo Underground is currently on a North American tour in support of this album, in the final, Midwest leg of the tour. Here are the places and dates for those shows:

September 28
Lawrence University – Esch Studio, Warch Campus Center
711 E. Boldt Way
Appleton, WI 54911
(with Ahleuchatistas)

September 29
The Mill
120 E. Burlington St.
Iowa City, IA

September 30
Old Town School of Folk Music
1519 W Irving Park Rd 1
Chicago, IL

October 3
Wire Magazine’s Adventures In Modern Music Festival
The Empty Bottle
1035 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL

Check the Cuneiform Records website for tour updates.

Tres Cabeças Loucuras was released last year by Cuneiform Records.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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