Rob Mazurek is a fertile musician, often producing two or more discs a year of major works. But this New Jersey-born/Chicago-based avant-garde cornetist who leads or co-leads so many ensembles big and small that I’ve lot count, has just issued Chants And Corners (Clean Feed) under a moniker that he’s rarely used these days: simply Rob Mazurek.
A few years back in 2013, we profiled Skull Sessions, credited to the “Rob Mazurek Octet” and four years earlier came Sound Is from the “Rob Mazurek Quintet.” Chants And Corners is also a quintet album but with much more in common with the São Paulo-originated Octet than the Chicago-centric Sound Is band. Also recorded in the Brazilian capital with Octet members Mauricio Takara (drums), Guilherme Granado (keys, synth, electronics, sampler) and Thomas Rohrer (rabeca, soprano sax, flutes, electronics), Mazurek adds the piano/prepared piano of Philip Somervell.
With the leader himself on cornet as well as a modular synthesizer and sampler, you’d have to expect that this eccentric combination of noisemakers is going to manufacture some eccentric noise and sure enough it does, but that has to do more with the conception of the music’s mastermind than anything else. Though lacking the sonic heft of his Exploding Star Orchestra or even his similarly configured Black Cube SP, Mazurek’s quintet occupies a middle ground between and his grand, orchestral colossus of those bigger bands and the gaunt, intimate complexion of his smaller groups, such as the Starlicker trio.
Often though, he’s able to steer his band toward both extremes, getting loud and boisterous on the raging, swirling “King Spot.” Sequenced right before that is “Raked Harmonic Sun Burst Strata,” where Mazurek projects a muted cornet into a barren soundscape of random beats and alien buzzes, then takes off the mute and blares into abyss (and slightly away from the mic).
The quintet initially tackles smaller improv pieces, running through four of them in less than ten minutes’ time. Typical of Mazurek’s electro-acoustic experiments, traditional roles are not closely adhered to, and can’t, really: there’s no bass holding down the bottom and Takara isn’t there to keep time. So, they take unconventional tactics such as Takara’s hardened barrage set against Somervell’s staccato chords during “Sun Flare Extensions and Other Dimensions,” allowing the others to fill in the vast in-between with free expressions. Formless dissonance complemented by electronically generated found sounds form the foundation for much of the fare presented throughout the album.
Only a couple of performances go on for an extended time. On “Matrices of Lost Conversations,” that extra time allows Somervell time to fully unpack his halting piano style amid gizmo sounds, Rohrer’s flute and Mazurek’s cornet fluttering about, and later, off in a distance, the leader broods on his horn leading up to a impenetrable sonic wall of noise. “Android Sun” barely exists for the first half, preferring quietly contemplative texture, but like “Matrices”, the calm is only the calm before the storm, and during the inevitable disturbance, Rohrer’s tortured sax can be heard.
Chants And Corners is an offshoot of several recent Rob Mazurek endeavors, tweaking prior ideas and recycling supporting musicians in different combinations. It’s become a common approach of Mazurek, but it produces fresh, interesting results each time.