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Sao Paulo Underground

By Phil Freeman
Published March 13, 2007

Rob Mazurek is a busy guy. The cornet player and composer leads the Chicago Underground, a group that’s been a duo, a trio and a quartet depending on the CD you’re listening to; fronts Isotope 217 with members of Tortoise; and recently formed the skronky electronic jazz crew Mandarin Movie, as well as releasing a solo disc. His newest project is Sao Paulo Underground, which teams him with Brazilian percussionist and programmer Mauricio Takara.

“I heard Mauricio playing with his band Hurtmold in Belo Horizonte,” Mazurek says via e-mail from the road. “It turns out that Mauricio and the Hurtmold guys were/are big fans of my music with Chicago Underground/Isotope 217/Mandarin Movie, etc. We hit it off immediately, and a month later I found myself in Sao Paulo playing and recording with Mauricio. We knew right [away] that we could create something interesting and distinct...we were able to find a space that isn’t really represented in any of my other ensembles. Two different personalities approaching sound in a similar but personally distinctive way.”

The music on the group’s first CD, Sauna: Um, Dois, Tres (Aesthetics), combines Brazilian rhythms—and some jazz grooves courtesy of Mazurek’s Chicago Underground drummer, Chad Taylor—with glitchy, stuttering electronics. Both men electronically manipulate the sound, in addition to playing organic instruments, and the results are sometimes unsettling indeed, as melodies are swallowed by static or drift away entirely. It’s like hearing Don Cherry remixed by British avant-garde electronica duo Autechre.

As with all his prior projects, Mazurek’s taking Sao Paulo Underground out of the studio and on the road, too; they’ve already played in his hometown of Chicago, Sao Paulo, and Majorca, Spain, with performances at the Chicago World Music Festival in September, and at Guelph in Canada to follow. The ultimate impact of digital music-making technology has been to democratize sound processing, and to render trends meaningless as everyone does whatever they want, and gets it to as many people as possible. Sao Paulo Underground isn’t the future of Brazilian music, or of jazz, but they’re a future, happening in the present. Listen up.