Rob Mazurek & Black Cube SP at Dreamland


Rob MazurekMost impressive about a Rob Mazurek live show is the way in which he’s able to generate a huge, dense sound while creating an intimate setting.  The music is often in your face, but that’s not necessarily how it’s presented.  Instead, somehow, Mazurek concerts end up possessing a noble elegance and riveting magnetism that diffuses a defensive reaction to potentially aggressive music.  Part of this has to be attributable to his talent at meshing a number of seemingly diverse influences into thick, warm blanket of sound easy to embrace, even at the peak of its volatility.  Another major contributing factor to this effect is the sincerity and genuineness of his music.  It comes from the heart and it’s often whip-smart cerebral.  His Sunday night show at Louisville’s Dreamland was a case in point.

Performing with Black Cube SP, a mixed cast of his São Paulo Underground (Guilherme Granado and Mauricio Takara) and Thomas Rohrer, Mazurek and crew were touring in support of the late-2014 recording Return the Tides: Ascension Suite and Holy Ghost… a profound recording created shortly after the passing of Mazurek’s mother.  Rob Mazurek - "Return the Tides"With the album, Mazurek sought to create music that achieved a cathartic outpouring of emotion, serving as a rite of passage for both his mother and himself.  It was recorded in one take and initially not intended for release, but its sheer power and beauty convinced them to make it publicly available.  It is nothing if not sincere and genuine, and it’s this kind of soul-on-the-sleeve honesty that renders Mazurek’s music so compelling and his shows strangely intimate and personal, even as his ensemble generates sufficient force to tear down walls.

On Sunday night, those walls belonged to Louisville’s Dreamland, a venue that has been (slightly) re-purposed from its sole use as the theater for the Louisville Film Society to holding a regular array of concerts.  Once part church and administrative offices, the small stage is fronted by rows of pews, and the angles of the ceiling and walls and beams give the impression of a place where prayer has gone down before.  On this evening, Mazurek delivered some spirituality of his own.

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He opened with “Let the Rain Fall Upwards,” a long-form piece from Return the Tides, and returned later with the the album’s title-track.  True to form, Mazurek offered up both tracks in ways that made them sound simultaneously familiar and quite different.  Melodic fragments tugged the ear in the direction of memories of the recorded music, while diversions, improvisations and heart-displayed-to-the-world leaps of imagination nurtured the music into something completely new.

Mazurek split time between his cornet and a bedside table of electronics and effects.  He’d conjure up the low hum of thick drones, spike passages with wild keyboard phrases, and occasionally shout wordless harmonies into the mic.  He also added in a variety of percussive instruments… a responsibility shared by each of the quartet members.

Thomas Rohrer spent most of the show’s duration on the rabeca.  Native to Brazil, it sits like a viola and pours like a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo.  Expressive as hell with a dreamy delivery that can mimic the flow of water, Rohrer utilized its harmonic and rhythmic attributes nearly as often as its breathtakingly melodic talents.

The richness of their rhythmic approach shined through strong on their rendition of “Primitive Jupiter.”  Whereas the original, performed by Mazurek’s Pulsar Quartet, played it pretty straight with a jumping, but insistent tempo, Mazurek’s crew on this evening accentuated the beats to build up a danceable groove, but layered it with all kinds of nuance to where it was just as likely to make a cerebral connection as it would make the foot tap or the head bounce.

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Guilherme Granado and Mauricio Takara were the behind the steering wheel of that rhythmic attack.  Granado effected this via a mix of synths, keyboards, sampling and percussion.  His mad scientist work distilling grooves and spraying beats across the room incited motion even during the thickest of harmonic passages.  Takara was relentless on the drum set, whether working up a torrent of rhythm or dialing it way down to a sound more appropriate for a church environment.  He occasionally switched things up on cavaquinho, a Brazilian stringed instrument from the guitar family.

Mazurek and crew ended the show with “Skull Caves of Alderon,” from his 2013 octet recording, Skull Sessions.  It was an album that had him honoring both the post-bop experimental influence of his Chicago days and the Tropicalia folk-jazz sound from his time in Brazil.  Considering the expanse of influences that shape and form his music in the present day, on the evening of this show, it was a nifty choice with which to end the night.

Mazurek is still on tour.  Learn more on his site (LINK).

Rob Mazurek - "Return the Tides"Read more about Mazurek’s album Return the Tides: Ascension Suite & Holy Ghost, here on this site (LINK).  It was slotted as the Best of 2014 #2 Album of the Year.

And be sure to check out Dreamland for upcoming shows.  Musicians, this is a legit possibility for a tour stop.  Get in touch with them if you’re also hitting cities like Nashville, St. Louis, Indianapolis or Cincy.

Concert photos courtesy of Kevin Coultas.