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Tigersmilk - From the Bottle

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Artist: Tigersmilk

Album: From the Bottle

Label: Family Vineyard

Review date: Mar. 14, 2005

Rob Mazurek has a problem. No matter how far he immerses his cornet in pools of electronics, he cannot shake the jazz/electronica-hybrid tag. During the last decade he has released over 20 albums (Isotope 217, the Chicago Underground formations, various solo releases) and guested on scores of others (Tortoise, Stereolab), all this after starting out as a hard bopper. In interviews he speaks more about sound/noise artists like Merzbow, Fennesz and Pita than he does of Miles Davis, to which many reviewers compare him. He prefers to call what he does “abstract sonics.” When one listens to the live document From the Bottle, his second with the Tigersmilk trio, that concept makes the music far more intriguing.

Also a plastic artist, Mazurek paints, sculpts and makes installations. His paintings, mostly large abstract blocks of color, usually accompany his records. Mazurek speaks often of his desire to discover the meeting point of the visual and sonic mediums, so one way to listen to the six pieces here is to imagine the group engaged not in improvisation, but in sound painting, sound being just one more plastic medium to be bent and shaped.

The bassist Jason Roebke and the percussionist Dylan van der Schyff are sensitive collaborators. Roebke – no stranger to cross-media works, working with the dancer Ayako Kato in the Art Union Humanscape – contributes asymmetric swathes of deep tones, balancing van der Schyff’s mottled percussion. This music is all color and shading; tension and release, rhythm and melody play a limited role. Mazurek, manning the electronics, sparingly adorns the others’ contributions, feeding in low-volume static or adding occasional echo to van der Schyff’s drums. In this way, van der Schyff’s long unaccompanied interludes sound less like drum solos and more like extended textural explorations.

Track lengths title the pieces, a move that indicates one is listening not to a finished product but a process. The trio throws out ideas onto a canvas, then adds new shades until the original concept disappears. The first track starts as a scrabbling battle, moves through a dark ambient passage then ends with a noir-ish theme. “15:25” begins with Mazurek squeezing out a jaunty theme. In another setting it might be a classic bop head; here it’s a jumping off point, Mazurek’s subsequent embellishment coming across like streaks of lightning. The first half of “18:52” is a rapidly pulsating hum, its presence so massive it almost sidelines the trio, where they can only color with skittering percussion, arco bass scrawls and forlorn cornet stabs.

Such a focus on process means not all of From the Bottle sparks interest. The trio often meanders before hitting on exciting combinations. “12:53” takes too long to arrive at its climatic swarm of acoustic and laptop noise, but when it does it is a satisfying slow-burn crackle worthy of Fennesz’s more abstracted moments. The piece is indicative of Mazurek’s career arc, in which one hears him searching for something achingly unreachable, and sometimes finding it. It’s a quality that makes all of his albums, including this one, worth hearing.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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