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Rob Mazurek Octet: Skull Sessions

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Sometimes Rob Mazurek’s compositions begin quietly and move slowly. Recent works by the Chicago Underground Duo and the Exploding Star Orchestra have been as much about the journey as the destination. The trio Starlicker and the Pulsar Quartet are marked by more propulsive movement. The cornetist’s new Octet combines a bit of both worlds, with some gentle introductions that give way to sonic turbulence. It also brings together two of his worlds, as ESO members match wits with members of the São Paulo Underground.

The music on Skull Sessions was created as a presentation to complement the We Want Miles exhibition at SESC São Paulo. Mazurek chose not to touch any music by Miles Davis, but what he created sometimes recalls the electric intensity of the trumpeter’s albums from the 1970s (although Mazurek’s ring modulator could be creating a bias here). Each track unfolds slowly, with each player taking his or her spot before a written structure starts to reveal itself. When the background is solidified, various combinations of instruments come and go over top of it. Drummer John Herndon deserves a lot of credit for holding down the fort, especially during the 15-minute “Voodoo and the Petrified Forest,” where he maintains a 5/4 crash rhythm for most of the song. Nicole Mitchell adds an intense flute solo, equaled in fury only by Thomas Rohrer, who attacks a rabeca (rustic Brazilian viola). While this particular piece runs a little long, the group does its best to make that length worthwhile.

Elsewhere, Jason Adasiewicz introduces “Skull Caves of Alderon,” which becomes a mutant march theme led by Mitchell’s piccolo before it turns to a chromatic riff bursting with Carlos Issa’s wild guitar. Skull Sessions is another solid work from an inventive leader who can’t stand still.

Originally Published