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Rob Mazurek Quintet - Sound Is

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Artist: Rob Mazurek Quintet

Album: Sound Is

Label: Delmark

Review date: Mar. 25, 2009

Rob Mazurek may no longer live in Chicago, but the sound and visual artist hasn’t severed ties with his former home. For his new quintet project, the new Sao Paulo resident enlisted the help of some old friends, Chicagoans all, fitting for a release on the venerable windy city jazz imprint Delmark. Mazurek has, as seems mandatory with the Chicagoans with whom he still plays, delved into any number of style as a musician and composer, and Sound Is does the same. The disc is ostensibly a jazz recording, though Mazurek & Co. take things in many different directions. What’s most compelling, however, is what stays the same: no matter how abstract or linear, smooth or rowdy, quiet or loud the band gets, Sound Is has an impressive consistency of tone. It’s a tightly crafted album whose whole is greater than the proverbial sum of its parts.

Sound Is opens with one of its strongest tracks, “As if an Angel Fell from the Sky,” in which the players unwind a loose amalgam of scattered sound, the music remaining rather relaxed even at its busiest moments. This atmospheric exploration is lorded over in the mix by Jason Adasiewicz’s vibraphone, an occurrence that happily repeats as the disc progresses. Mazurek’s cornet sits this one out, with the group’s leader providing synthesizer accompaniment, largely in the background. As the disc progresses, Mazurek is, more often than not, at the music’s fore, but his presence rarely obscures that of his compatriots. Mazurek is so generous with the spotlight, in fact, that on “The Field” he doesn’t even appear until the track begins its long fade to silence.

Sound Is covers a lot of ground over 14 tracks, and it’s not just the musical styles than change. Instrumentation shifts are also a large part of the album’s allure. Where a more standard jazz track like “The Hill” finds Mazurek soloing over a solid rhythmic foundation created by the dual basses of Matthew Lux (electric) and Josh Abrams (acoustic), “The Star Splitter” splashes Mazurek’s cornet with an echo effect, then backs it with soft piano, a steady beat of tinkling and jangling percussion, and what sounds like endless bowing from Abrams. Drummer John Herndon even occasionally handles a Yamaha tenori-on, which sends out signals in spastic splatters.

The most satisfying tracks are those that move beyond the jazz idiom, like “Beauty Wolf” and its oddball digital detritus segueing into a beautifully simple and wistful melody. Mazurek’s quintet conjures atmosphere expertly, often due in large part to Adasiewicz, whose vibraphone adds a beautifully sustained tone to the music, as well as an interesting voice to otherwise conservative tracks like “The Earthquake Tree.” Still, Sound Is is most certainly a product of all five of its ingredients, a multi-faceted stew that excites any number of taste buds as it goes down.

“Nora Grace,” which closes Sound Is, features Nora Grace Lux intoning the phrase “what you want to say” repetitively over piano accompaniment. If sound is, then, what you want to say, Rob Mazurek has a lot to tell us on his latest album. His discourse might vary from topic to topic, and his speech might go a little long, but the character of his voice and quality of his locution should be more than enough to keep his listeners happy.

By Adam Strohm

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