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Thursday, 20 June 2013 20:45

Charting the Music: Rob Mazurek Octet, 'Skull Sessions'

Charting the Music: Rob Mazurek Octet, 'Skull Sessions' flickr.com/photos/borgia/3544359150 / Paulo Borgia
Written by Travis Dettmann
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A collective of Brazilian and Chicagoan musicians created "Skull Sessions," a suite of compositions containing worldly influences infused with avant-garde jazz. The Rob Mazurek Octet sheds new light on complexity, recording in only two days time.

Rob Mazurek ropes together inhabitants from opposite sides of the equator, creating an almost unclassifiable effort that melds Brazilian and jazz instrumentation. The band expands and contracts the mind with spacious ambience, sharp dynamics and mesmerizing polyrhythms in these five compositions.

88.1 KDHX chart position: #2 Jazz for the week of June 11, 2013.

Record label, release date and producer: Cuneiform Records released "Skull Sessions" on January 29, 2013. It was produced by Angela Novaes and Frederico Finelli.

Can be heard on: All Soul, No Borders with Josh Weinstein.

RIYL: Late-period Miles Davis, Rob Mazurek Pulsar Quartet and Curtis Hasselbring.

Hometown: Jersey City, N.J.

Standout tracks: "Galactic Ice Skeleton" introduces us to "Skull Sessions," welcoming the listener with expansive sounds moving in all directions. Thanks to the driving backbeat of John Herndon, the piece continues dynamically towards its inevitable destiny. Flutist Nicole Mitchell erects the final composition, "Keeping the Light Up," keeping true to improvisation. The swirling audio gradually brings the listener back to consciousness, ending a 65-minute trance.

This artist/band: Jersey City, N.J. is only the birth city of Rob Mazurek, while Chicago, where he and his family moved in his adolescence, deserves more influential credit. Playing since the age of 10, he progressed from high-school band onto the Bloom School of Jazz in Chicago. From 2000-2005, he lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil where he gained influence while exploring the sounds of the rainforest. His octet consists of members from his other collaborations: Starlicker, Sao Paulo Underground and the Exploding Star Orchestra.

This label: The year was 1984 when Steve Feigenbaum founded Cuneiform Records. While Cuneiform's focus is mainly on jazz, the label also dabbles in electronic, rock, and experimental efforts. Its releases are distributed throughout North America by Entertainment One and worldwide through various distributors. Steve and his wife Joyce run the label out of Silver Springs, Md.

Play it while: Using night-vision goggles while trekking through the jungle.

About the album art: Are you afraid of bears? How about human skulls attached to bear bodies? The "Skull Sessions" album art harbors such a hideous creature, while the album itself is the soundtrack to summon it from its multi-century slumber. A vividly colorful town is deserted, or in hiding, as the monster roams, sniffing out its prey. Whether or not the artwork has specific meaning remains a mystery.

Did you know?: Rob Mazurek has lent his cornet abilities to musicians from all parts of the spectrum. Most recently, he was credited on Yo La Tengo's "Fade." In 2009, he recorded alongside Bonnie "Prince" Billy for his record "Beware." His brass can also be recognized on Tortoise's 1998 release "TNT."

What the critics say: "Emboldened by spirited performances, the group's masterful electro-acoustic fusion of folksy timbres and futuristic tones unveils a fascinating variety of multihued detail with repeated spins. Rapturous and sublime, 'Skull Sessions' is a captivating offering from Mazurek and company that embodies both the primal and urbane in equal measure." Troy Collins, All About Jazz.

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