Rob Mazurek and Black Cube SP — Return the Tides: Ascension Suite and the Holy Ghost (Cuneiform, 2014)
The psychedelic shimmer and haze of Rob Mazurek’s São Paolo Underground takes a deeper, spiritual meaning on Return the Tides, because the album is a tribute to Mazurek’s mother, who died two weeks before the recording session.
Outfitted with a band he calls Black Cube SP — an expanded São Paolo Underground, notably adding Thomas Rohrer, who plays a Brazilian fiddle called the rabeca — Mazurek embarks on an epic cathartic journey.
As a band, São Paolo Underground started out rather jazzy but embraced a fuzzier, noisier sound on its 2013 album, Beija Flors Velho E Sujo. On Return the Tides, that concept reaches a new level, a blast radius of distortion and chaos anchored in some spots by groove rhythms. Rohrer’s added muscle is certainly felt. He and keyboardist Guilherme Granado spout forth with guitar-style distortion while drummer Mauricio Takara bashes away, exorcising demons.
(The full Black Cube SP includes two more players — Rogerio Martins on percussion and voice, and vocalist Rodrigo Brandão — but I don’t get the feeling they’re contributing to the towering aspect of this album. The vocals, to which Mazurek also contributes, consist mostly of shouted proclamations, muffled against the supernova of sound on the title track.)
“Oh Mother (Angel’s Wings)” opens with a pleasant riff that has Mazurek soloing not so much over it as under it, sheltered by the structure created. Later, the track builds to a powerful/terrible brightness, an outpouring for the emotions that lie beyond the reach of words. It’s the album’s most powerful moment.
From there, the suite shifts to the fierce, almost celebratory groove of the title track, heavily rocking out. “Let the Rain Fall Upwards,” filled with reverse-playback noises, is a more abstract track, an abrasive, obstinate twist on ambient music.
For the concluding track, “Reverse the Lightning,” Rohrer picks up the soprano saxophone for a manic solo against a more solid, tempered groove. Mazurek’s cornet follows with a thick, echo-laden burst, a portal to another place. The finale is perforated by a long silence that eventually gives way to a ghostly drone accompanied by wordless singing.
Return the Tides was recorded in one continuous take with the goal of leaving nothing behind. Mazurek says he felt “complete release and stillness” when it was done.
Amid the tumult, Mazurek’s does shine through at times, his horn keenly piercing the dense thicket of sound, clearing the way for his mother’s passage to “the next,” as he refers to it. In that sense, Return the Tides has a honed, ritualistic purpose, and it succeeds.