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Três Cabeças Loucuras

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Album Review

For a musician so indelibly linked to the Chicago avant music scene, it perhaps seems odd that one of the best places to start investigating the work of cornetist Rob Mazurek is an album rooted in São Paulo, over 5,000 miles to the southeast of the Windy City. But indeed, São Paulo Underground's Tres Cabeças Loucuras, released by Cuneiform in 2011, is one of Mazurek's most engaging efforts, readily accessible to listeners of many persuasions with just the right amount of exploratory avant-gardisms to satisfy those with an adventurous streak. Mazurek lived in Brazil from 2000 to 2005 but São Paulo Underground, a duo pairing him with percussionist Mauricio Takara, didn't arrive on disc until 2006's Sauna: Um, Dois, Tres on the Aesthetics label. An avant take on tropicalia, this opening salvo put an intriguing spin on some of Mazurek's signature sounds, including the muted late-night electronica of Isotope 217 as well as his Chicago Underground groups, with tracks ranging from abstract sound collage to rhythmic grooving, sometimes with a loose jamming quality and murky sonics. Two years later keyboardist Guilherme Granado and drummer Richard Ribeiro transformed the duo into a quartet for The Principle of Intrusive Relationships, also released by Aesthetics, and the group's deep dubby modus operandi remained intact. With Tres Cabeças Loucuras, São Paulo Underground have emerged into the daylight.

Admittedly, the group's first two albums were deeply immersive listening experiences, but Tres Cabeças Loucuras makes a much stronger tropicalia connection. The album is comparatively breezy, rhythmically infectious, and even tuneful, qualities that tropicalia possessed from the start and that stand out in bolder relief here than on São Paulo Underground's first two discs. That's not to suggest the band has abandoned its previous experimentalism, but rather has shaped it into something more appealing and concise: check the brief second track "Pigeon," where the group's ear-tweaking timbres — with wild and squelchy electronics and Mazurek's echoed horn — are employed in a tune suggesting Weather Report's most celebratory world fusion. At least at the start, album highlight "Carambola" wouldn't be out of place in a Latin dance mix. Takara strums away on a cavaquinho (Brazilian ukulele) as Mazurek kicks out a high-spirited melody line while Granado and Ribeiro drive the rhythm with a deep buzz and half-buried clatter — it all collapses into blurty electronic free improvisation but the quartet pulls it back together for a buoyant unison finale. There's even a take on understated tropicalia-flavored vocals with "Colibri," and genuinely crystalline clarity enters the picture when Mazurek Chicago collaborator vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz opens (along with Tortoise drummer John Herndon) "Just Lovin'," a sonic street parade complete with tuned percussion loops, and solos in "Six Six Eight," a flat-out high-flying jazzer also featuring bassist Matthew Lux. The closing "Rio Negro," with a chorus of Mazureks, deeply bent and fractured electronics, and echoing stereo-panned drums, shows that São Paulo Underground still know when to dive back into darkness, keeping the breeziness in check.


Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Cornetist Rob Mazurek garnered wide attention after moving past his hard bop roots and becoming a guiding force in Chicago avant jazz with various Chicago Underground lineups in the '90s, also exploring post-rock, electronica, and more while adding Tortoise and Isotope 217 to his résumé. He carried his expansive, inquisitive sensibility to South America upon moving to Brazil in 2000 and later in the decade formed São Paulo Underground, a tropicalia-influenced experimental duo with percussionist Mauricio...
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Três Cabeças Loucuras, São Paulo Underground
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