Rob Mazurek Quintet

Sound Is
Delmark DE 586

Regenorchester XII

Town Down

Red Note RN 14

Although these similarly structured quintets play what could loosely be termed electric jazz, the complex patterns and unexpected strategies shouldn’t be confused with clichéd fusion sounds.

For a start the chief protagonists aren’t guitarists, but brass players – Sao Paulo via Chicago’s cornetist Rob Mazurek on one, Vienna’s Franz Hautzinger on the other. Another reason is that the inspiration for these sound-collages was as one way out of a conundrum, not towards fusion. As a matter of fact Sound Is doesn’t even feature jazz-rock’s most distinctive icon: a six-string electric guitar.

Briefly, Mazurek has put together different variations of his Chicago Project to free himself from the constraints of contemporary mainstream jazz. Hautzinger on the other hand, had become so involved in the minutia of unorthodox solo techniques that he almost lost contact with cooperative musicality. He’s trying to work his way towards playing well with others with this band and his trio with saxophonist Bertrand Gauguet and synthesizer player Thomas Lehn.

In truth, both of the discs are fusion efforts relating to the real meaning of the word, since many other sonic currents are present along with so-called jazz.

On Sound Is, for instance, percussionist John Herndon is a member of Tortoise, plus bass guitarist Matthew Lux and bassist Josh Abrams are affiliated with different Midwestern post-rock bands. Vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz has done his share of non-jazz playing as well. Meanwhile The Regenorchester includes bassist Luc Ex, familiar from his appearances with the anarcho-punk-improv band The Ex; turntablist/guitarist Otomo Yoshihide, who leads his own New Jazz Ensemble; The Necks drummer Tony Buck; plus guitarist Christian Fennesz better known for his forays into electronica

In short, kinetic string flanges, contrapuntal harmonies and arena rock-style pummeling can’t be escaped on Town Down. However the challenge the five face lies in shaping the material. For instance on “37rd Rainday” the opaque pulses and drones are reconstituted into cross-pulsed sequences while different currents of brass braying are heard – as if an entire trumpet section was present. Moderato and allegro most instruments’ pulses seep into one another as the result is further muddied by agitated loops and guitar distortion. Eventually singular trumpet grace notes materialize out of the sonic mulch.

In contrast to the vociferous percussion rebounds, rasping needle scratches on vinyl and ringing guitar licks that characterize other tracks, “SSS” is built up from nearly inaudible crackles, clinks and cracks from the turntable and blurry electronic loops plus spatial dislocation from one channel to another of Aboriginal-like drum beats. Faint Harmon-muted trumpet slurs become more prominent as Hautzinger’s tonguing is framed by twin guitar frails and delay. Finally dissipating the collective tension, the percussionist introduces gamelan-orchestra-styled pinging that is quickly matched with speedy tongue trills from Hautzinger. Finally programmed tape flanges bury the affiliated note flurries.

No turntables are in use on Sound Is, although as in Town Down some post-production legerdemain is involved. Mazurek does introduce the occasional brass riffs, plus some of the less identifiable tones are from Herndon’s Tenori-on. It’s a matrix instrument whose 16 layers of 16 tracks allow sounds to be input, stored, combined or separated and switched instantaneously.

Nevertheless, the most persistent sound heard are silvery mallet resonation from Adasiewicz’s vibes, Abrams’ or Mazurek’s piano comping or chording and the feathery timbres of Mazurek’s cornet. It may come as a surprise to the brass man, but the performance would probably be described as jazz-like by even the most conservative listener. A track such as “Microraptagonfly”, for instance, taken largo, features lyrical cornet grace notes that float above programmed tone blocks, lazily bringing out sfumato-like timbres without stress. “The Hill” on the other hand, includes a heavy shuffle beat, a contiguous walking bass line plus slurring color waves vibrating, as Mazurek fires off choruses of presto-patterned triplets. Painting the melody in tremolo whorls and circles, the measures advanced by Mazurek are further toughened with rim shots, as simultaneously Lux picks out a counter melody on the strings of his bass guitar.

Finally “Dragon Kites” and “The Star Splitter” which follow one another encompass a catalogue of effects. There are patterns bowed from the bass; the twinge and slides of electronic delay; scattered steel-drum-like rebounds and clicks; plus rococo tonguing from the brass man. As one piece dissolves into the next and the lyricism seems endemic, repeated hand-clapping and vibraphone thwacks toughen the beat and speed the tempo up a half step. Soon ringing bells, slapped bass strings and rhythmic piano comping shove the melody to a higher pitch then down again, with the synchronized climax blending bass and piano timbres.

Both Mazurek and Hautzinger have evidentially worked their way out of their respective sound conundrums. With the exceptional help of equally proficient friends they have done so while producing notable music.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Sound: 1. As if an Angel Fell from the Sky 2. The Earthquake Tree 3. Dragon Kites 4. The Star Splitter 5. The Hill 6. Le Baiser (The Kiss) 7. The Lightning Field 8. Cinnamon Tree 9. The Dream Rocker 10. Beauty Wolf 11. Microraptagonfly 12. Aphrodite Rising 13. The Field 14. Nora Grace.

Personnel: Sound: Rob Mazurek (corner, synthesizer and piano); Jason Adasiewicz (vibraphone); Josh Abrams (bass and piano); Matthew Lux (bass guitar) and John Herndon (drums, percussion and Tenori-on)

Track Listing: Town: 1. Town Down 2. Delis 3. 37rd Rainday 4. BBB 5. Sand 6. SSS

Personnel: Town: Franz Hautzinger (trumpet); Christian Fennesz (guitar and electronics); Otomo Yoshihide (turntables and guitar); Luc Ex (bass) and Tony Buck (drums)