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Tigersmilk - Tigersmilk

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Artist: Tigersmilk

Album: Tigersmilk

Label: Family Vineyard

Review date: Apr. 8, 2003

Disorienting Improv From Mazurek & Co.

Tigersmilk isn't a new Belle & Sebastian side project, but rather a free improv trio featuring Chicago cornetist Rob Mazurek. Mazurek is best known for his work with the Chicago Underground projects and for his association with post-rock groups like Tortoise and Isotope 217. Tigersmilk’s disorienting, spare sound, however, is miles away from the slickness of Tortoise’s TNT or the Chicago Underground Duo’s Axis and Alignment. Whereas Mazurek sometimes tended to sound like he was “improvising,” here he’s actually improvising.

I loved Axis and Alignment for the sheer number of weird sounds it managed to integrate into a pristine finished product, but it often felt a bit too pristine, too certain – no doubts, no unanswered questions, goodnight folks. Like a lot of Chicago post-rock, it felt too effortless to seem exploratory, and it was just as easy to ignore as it was to listen to carefully.

Mazurek doesn’t have that problem with Tigersmilk, his trio with bassist Jason Roebke and percussionist Dylan van der Schyff. Their music is fragmented and open-ended. It sometimes resembles bop, with swinging rhythms and Mazurek playing extroverted themes on cornet. But more often, Tigersmilk engages in out-there, texture-based improv that’s equally unpredictable and disturbing, avoiding the Chicago Underground Duo’s sheen, but not its creativity or its huge variety of influences. “Right On Agatite,” for example, begins with Mazurek toying with plinking electronics while Roebke bows twisting, sustained lines in the background. Van der Schyff enters with echoing, dub-like drum hits. Soon Mazurek picks up his cornet as the rhythm section drones along in the background, playing like he’s leading a parade through hell in his dreams.

Elsewhere, Tigersmilk’s members are likely to be coaxing unusual sounds from their instruments, responding to Mazurek’s electronics, or not playing at all. Roebke and van der Schyff are excellent throughout, playing plodding rhythms and isolated flurries that contribute to the dark feel of the album. Tigersmilk doesn’t do much of the push-and-pull scrambling of most standard free jazz, which leaves the players free to concentrate on texture.

With Tigersmilk and the Unstable Ensemble’s Liturgy Of Ghosts, the Family Vineyard company is digging out a space of its own, offering dark, glitz-free improv that doesn’t depend heavily on virtuosity. Tigersmilk and The Liturgy Of Ghosts are something like the improv equivalent of really good early-’90s indie rock, where an album’s charm often partially depended on its intentionally ugly/“ugly” sound and regular-person approach. Family Vineyard is a label to watch, especially for listeners who came to free jazz through underground rock.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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