Somnambule - Writing About Music

Mandarin Movie

Mandarin Movie is Chicagoan cornettist Rob Mazurek’s latest project. It follows on from a number of low-key, laptop oriented solo releases, higher profile albums from the Chicago Underground groups he leads and his guest contributions to postrock innovators Tortoise. This oddly named new group features guitarist Alan Licht, trombonist Steve Swell, drummer Frank Rosaly and bassists Jason Ajemian and Matthew Lux.
First track Orange begins on a drawn-out, foreboding note held by the horn section of Mazurek and that’s reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting soundtrack for Planet Of The Apes. Drums gatecrash the murder scene, scattering evidence to the four winds while chicken-scratch guitar aches and groans as if in torment. Guitar, bass and drums engage in a roiling, brawling struggle that could be an outtake from Miles Davis’s intense patchwork quilt of recordings, Get Up With It. However, this music is very much not pastiche, it’s alternately a fast moving aural nightmare, fermented from every chase-scene that’s flickered across a sleeping mind in the middle of the night and a neanderthal club of a rhythm beating down repeatedly on a dying animal.

The Green Giraffe follows and briefly drops the pressure with the patter of an electronic rhythm before Frank Rosaly’s drums stomp in like a demented vandal in the proverbial china shop and Licht explores his angry goliath side, firing off long noisy chords. Rob Mazurek and Steve Swell contribute a ruminative pall, an essential element of the music that expands its sense of potential. The album finishes with The Highest Building In The World, a manically driven and gloriously hellish wall of noise that clocks in at just over 13 minutes. It’s a variegated piece of roaring exhilaration whose title must surely refer to the Tower Of Babel. If so, it’s undoubtedly the sound of that mythical building crashing to earth. It’s great to hear Rob Mazurek setting aside his laptop abstractions for such visceral concerns. Think Last Exit and Metallica melded with the aforementioned 70s Miles Davis and Jerry Goldsmith with a dash of Merzbow. Mandarin Movie is noisome, cathartically heavy, exciting music.
Colin Buttimer
May 2005
Published by the BBC