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Sao Paulo Underground - Beija Flors Velho e Sujo [Cuneiform Records - 2013]

Sao Paulo Underground is a trio of multi-instrumentalists formed by Chicago composer Rob Mazurek after his move to Brazil.  They play a brand of loud and distorted but quite melodic bluesy rock sludge that sounds as if it were emitting through several blown tube amps at the same time.

This fiery, partially improvisational recording is their 4th album, titled "Beija Flors Velho e Sujo".  On one hand, they hit you with a galloping stoner rock groove, pentatonic and power chord riffing that wouldn't be out of place on a Boris record, and yet the prominent and inspired use of horns sets it apart from that genre. 

A sharp, bleating cornet carries the lead melody of many songs, harkening to Miles Davis as well as a distinctly Latin style of pointed overblowing and circular melody that I have heard in samba, mariachi, and other South American musics.  Many times, there will be a sudden interruption of the riffing for a beautiful consonant chorale of horns, lasting just a few bars before lurching back into a riff.  The chord progressions and melodies in general are elegantly constructed, and most likely rooted in theory.

The band also sound like worshippers of Bitches Brew (especially in opener "Ol' Dirty Hummingbird"), and they recapture the cavernous fuzzed out wash of that album quite effectively.  The album could have been recorded in a massive parking garage or empty swimming pool (a la Sigur Ros).  On tracks such as "Arnus Nusar", the melted resonances of rhodes keyboards enter the mix, deepening its connection to 70's jazz.

Each piece on the album breezes by, as the band's hypnotic, zoned out rhythm is infectious.  There are many odd and entertaining playful moments, such as the band's quite ernest cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", which boasts a trilling Gershwin-esque piano, gushing with emotion, which breaks into a muffled infinite reverb (the liner notes list an 'analog delay', and indeed it sounds quite pleasantly analog). 

In true krautrock fashion, the music will at times break down into dissonant trails of noise, bold sojourns into the far reaches of space.  These are quite effective, as all the players have creativity and ferocity to spare; there is many a searing solo, particularly from the cornet (played by band founder Rob Mazurek).

At 40 minutes, this album is tremendously listenable, and even could have been longer. It's one of the most exciting rock/jazz releases I've heard in years, bringing to mind similar minded groups such as Fontanelle, but showing  perhaps more vitality and energy.  I will certainly be investigating this band's other material, and would jump at the chance to see them live.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Landry
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