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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rob Mazurek and Black Cube SP - Return the Tides (Cuneiform Records, 2014) ****

By Matthew Grigg

Return the Tides is the second album to be released this year dedicated to the memory of Rob Mazurek's mother, who died unexpectedly in 2013. Recorded two weeks after her passing, it represents a very different expression of loss to that documented on 'Mother Ode' from two months later. Recorded in Brazil, 'Return the Tides' finds Mazurek joined by The Black Cube SP; Mauricio Takara and Guilherme Granado from the Sao Paulo Underground, augmented by Thomas Rohrer, Rogerio Martins and Rodrigo Brandão.

Here the emotion underpinning the subject matter is clearly still very raw, and whilst this isn't the anguished cry of purely untempered catharsis, it feels more overtly impassioned than any other of Mazurek's group recordings to date. Whilst the vehicles utilised carry hallmarks found throughout his catalogue; insistent grooves and vamps, an undulating sea of electronics, keening cornet cries or spurts and smears, the manner of their application feels discernibly different. Whether in the complex layering of the Chicago Underground Duo, or the dizzying number of voices comprising the Exploding Star Orchestra, his work is often characterised by a sense of control and exactness of execution. Here, that precision and control is notably looser, resulting in a piece which feels emblematic of the destabilising nature of the subject matter.

Rock's primal immediacy underpins much of this recording. At times redolent of Cobham's 'Spectrum' and its ilk, but assuaged by a sense of stumbling entropy, the rhythmic insistency and distorted sonics touch on a gnarled tropicália, simultaneously suggestive of Konono N˚1's Congotronics and the tumbling dissonant no-wave of Mars. Although often electronics can elicit the sensation of being removed or distanced from the directly personal, as if using technology creates a buffer between inspiration and execution, here the opposite is true. The ever shifting distorted haze is as evocative as it is destabilising, and much of the records most affecting moments are found in its swirling eddies. Mazurek's cornet and Rohrer's soprano sax or rabeca (Brazilian fiddle) surface fleetingly, as if momentarily propelled atop the stormy electronic waters, before being submerged by the next wave of rolling percussion and contorted circuitry. Finally the stormy seas fall calm, and in its wake wordless vocalisations chant into the void.

In the Kübler-Ross model, the emotions of grief are explained in five stages. The solo 'Mother Ode' then represents the final stage, acceptance, a record full of the contemplative melancholy and the bittersweet joy of remembrance. By contrast 'Return the Tides' is a combination of the preceding four, a tangled mess of anguished textures, an emotionally charged voyage which must be navigated before the possibility of acceptance can be reached. It stands alongside 'A Love Supreme' as a recording that is both deeply personal but expressed with empathetic help from others, and whilst it is rare but not unique to jazz, it is unique within Mazurek's catalogue.

Rob Mazurek - cornet, electronics, voice
Mauricio Takara - drums, cavaquinho, voice
Guilherme Granado - keyboards, synths, sampler, voice
Thomas Rohrer - rabeca, electronics, soprano saxophone, voice
Rogerio Martins - percussion, voice
Rodrigo Brandão - voice

CD, Ltd 2LP & DL