Rob Mazurek + Black Cube SP – Return The Tides: Ascension Suite And Holy Ghost (2014)

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I’ve felt that the vast majority of cornetist Rob Mazurek’s works – whether under his own name, the various Chicago Underground Ensembles or the Exploding Star Orchestra — reflected its leader’s flair for putting inspired artistic effort into them. With the sudden and devastating passing of his mother in May of 2013, Mazurek became more motivated than ever to make a grand musical statement, in honor of the woman who bore and nurtured him.

If this is Mazurek at his most inspired, then we best stand back and brace ourselves.

Mazurek quickly composed this music with his head and heart swimming with emotion and before the month was up, had decamped to his second country, Brazil, and recorded in a single, one hour and eight minute session what became the four-song statement Return The Tides: Ascension Suite And Holy Ghost (October 14, 2014 via Cuneiform Records). Heading out to Sao Paulo, Mazurek assembled friends that he made down there to put his music into the hands of people he deeply trusts. Mauricio Takara (drums, cavaquinho, voice) and Guilherme Granado (keyboards, synths, sampler, voice) make up the often amazing São Paulo Underground with Mazurek, and the Swiss-born Thomas Rohrer (rabeca, electronics, soprano sax, voice) has become one of Brazil’s leading masters on rabeca, a violin-like instrument. Rogerio Martins (percussion, voice) and Rodrigo Brandão (voice) are also well known and respected in Brazil’s diverse music scene. Black Cube SP, therefore, is a collection of Babe Ruths.

Finding solace and strength from his studies of Buddhism, Mazurek embarked on this project as “a shamanistic journey where we sonically clear a path for my mother into the unknown to ensure her safe journey to the next.” If that’s an impossible measurable by which to judge music — especially one without words — Mazurek leaves you no choice but to at least allow for the possibility that these strange, intense and passionate sounds are opening up portals for his mother’s soul to get to a place of eternal peace.

Getting to eternal peace, apparently, sometimes necessitates crossing over violence, impending violence and moments of pure beauty. The percussion that greets listeners at the front door of “Oh Mother (Angel’s Wings)” like the light but steady patter of an afternoon shower is soon joined by Mazurek’s wistful cornet much as Rashied Ali once set up Coltrane’s spiritual outpourings all over Interstellar Space. But instead of fury, a regal, hopeful two-chord riff commences, making up the bulk of the first half of this song. Simple, yes, but the emotions rumbling around it are complex, a swirl of electronics, rabeca, organ and a whole mess of other sonorities. It’s messy, but it’s one of those beautiful messes. Later on, it gets messier still, that hope growing into disarray and by its ending, human voices add to the chorus of cacophony.

“Return The Tides” has an ornery groove and a vamp led by Rohrer’s rabeca that the Miles of 1974 would love, and Mazurek holds little back, projecting his horn out across the cosmos represented by the swells of this experimental funk orchestra to make sure his mother heard it. The journey enters its trippy-est phase on “Let The Rain Fall Upwards,” that not only uses backwards looping, it’s used to create a rhythm that eventually deconstructs and mutates. A large mass of a hovering, electronic drone, this free-form psychedelic creature resembles a Buddhist chant from the afterworld. Gradually, the most bent 3/4 gait you ever heard emerges, with Jimi Hendrix’s weirdest moments exponentially amplified and put into a Brazilian blender.

The fog suddenly lifts for “Reverse The Lightning,” leaving behind a low hum and Rohrer’s weeping rabeca. A four chord vamp emerges over the Afro-Brazilian percussion, and Rohrer’s soprano sax solo provides one of the few real jazz moments on the record. His straight horn gets more agitated to keep pace with the relentless pulse of the percussion and then as a final release of the agony of profound loss, Mazurek fires off a battery of notes put through an echo chamber and then, silence for over a minute. The music tepidly returns and a congregation of harmonized voices rise up in the form ritualistic drones and chants before vanishing into the ether.

Rob Mazurek pours his heart out with a very sympathetic squad for this paean to his mother. Return The Tides: Ascension Suite And Holy Ghost can be a little overwhelming in its ambitions at times, but the best way to prepare for this is to familiarize yourself with Mazurek’s other projects. Because as unbound and weighty as the music sounds here, it might be only slightly more so than some his prior work. Here, his usual brilliance becomes a tortured brilliance.

feature photo credit: Daniel Vass

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,, 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
S. Victor Aaron

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