São Paulo Underground – Três Cabeças Loucuras

January 01, 1970





When Chicago Underground and Exploding Star Orchestra
mainstay Rob Mazurek packed off to live in Brazil a few years ago, he brought
his cornet. He also maintained a healthy interest in artistic collaboration,
continuing to seek out musicians on the outskirts of jazz, rock and
improvisational experiment. Early on, he found Mauricio Takara, a percussionist
and cavaquinho (a kind of miniature guitar) player and formed the São Paulo
Underground. After one album as a duo, they were joined by Guilherme Granada,
reforming their band (according to a translation of the album title) around “three
crazy heads.”


Cabeças Loucuras
is the group’s third album, a lighthearted but
not unserious romp through space-age Latin and non-Latin styles. The sound
ranges from vibraphone plunking, eccentrically metered Chicago post-rock (“Six
Six Eight,” which brings along Mazurek’s Exploding Star compatriots, John
Herndon, Jason Adasiewicz and Matt Lux) 
to heat-shimmering, electronically embellished Tropicalia (“Pigeon”
based on a traditional maracatu and Takara’s lilting, hip-shifting “Carambola”).
The main constants are complex rhythms, a futuristic use of synths, electronics
and effects and Mazurek’s high, fever-dream cornet trills, which float like jet
trails over jungle-y tangles of funk-jazz syncopation.


The disc’s highlights come early and late, in opener
“Jagoda’s Dream” and closing “Rio Negro.” “Jagoda’s
Dream” combines twitch and serenity, as a lyrical cornet runs over an intricate
hashes of rhythmic energy. The melody weaves like a path cleared through thick
forests, revealing the profusion of life around it. “Rio
Negro,” too, exhibits a fascinating blend of calm and noisy
experiment, its early moments bounded by fog-horn-like blasts and a mournful,
blues-tinged cornet. The sound coalesces, briefly, around a high stepping,
ballroom jazz-y interval reminiscent of Ethiopia’s Mulatu Astkake. But
then, almost as suddenly, it disintegrates in a chaotic, noise-fused, abstract
mid-section which was, according to the liner notes, composed by Afro-Brazilian
innovator Kiko DiNucci. The piece returns home eventually, recollecting its
triumphant, rhythm-centered swagger and the cool, nearly surreal clarity of the
cornet line, but it has clearly been to an uncharted place in the meantime.


Not all the pieces are equally gripping. Some drift over too
far into crowd-pleasing sunniness (there’s a bit at the end of “Carambola” that
reminds me of Herb Alpert and his Tijuana
Brass…and no, not in a good way.)  Yet on
the whole, this album warms and quickens what’s abstract about Chicago-style
post-jazz. Crossing difficult grooves with body-moving samba beats, these guys
are serious musicians with a sense of fun…and what’s wrong with that? 


DOWNLOAD: “Jagoda’s
Dream,” “Rio Negro” JENNIFER KELLY


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