Mandarin Movie: Mandarin Movie

“This record is not for the faint hearted.” So states accompanying documentation to this identically titled album and band project from noted cornetist, Chicago native, and current Brazil resident Rob Mazurek and, frankly, truer words were never spoken. While he might have originally established himself as a valuable contributor to albums by Tortoise and Stereolab and key member of the Chicago Underground Trio and Isotope 217, recent work like the bold Mego outing Sweet and Vicious like Frankenstein hinted that Mazurek's next project might pursue an even more challenging direction; Mandarin Movie, his first new band in over ten years, is inarguably that. Abetted by an all-star crew of kindred spirits (guitarist Alan Licht, bass guitarist Matthew Lux, trombonist Steve Swell, double bassist Jason Ajemian, and drummer Frank Rosaly), Mazurek and company blast through an album of detonative audio assaults and psychotropic meltdowns. Unsuspecting Mazurek fans expecting neo-bop Chicago Underground variations are in for a rude awakening as feedback noisefests like the two-part “Black Goat,” for example, inhabit a different galaxy altogether. (Califone member Jim Becker adds fiddle and banjo to one piece while guitarist Rick Rizzo and Tortoise drummer John Herndon appear on another but their contributions are largely absorbed into the total mass of sound.)

Interestingly all but three pieces are under three minutes, with only the last, the volcanic noisescape “The Highest Building in the World,” an epic thirteen minutes long. The opener “Orange,” a cacophonous meltdown teeming with screeching synths and feedback growls, sets the tone immediately. “The Green Giraffe” follows and, though it initially presents a more conventional sound, likewise morphs into a steamrolling roar. Still, some accessible moments do appear, like the calm guitar interlude “Ghost Ships Don't Sink” and the contrarily titled “The Ghost Ship is Sinking,” a dirge-like setting for cornet. And, listening closely, one even hears something of a Wayne Shorter theme buried beneath the guitar wails of “A Very Modern Camera (part two).”

If Mandarin Movie has a precedent, the closest thing to it might be Last Exit, a similarly lethal avant-garde band comprised by the late guitarist Sonny Sharrock, bassist Bill Laswell, drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, and saxophonist Peter Brotzmann that terrorized listeners with improvisatory fire in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The punk-funk jazz spirit of “Peking Duck with Steam Dumpling” comes close to that band's sound, with Mazurek's cornet and Swell's trombone taking Brotzmann's place.

Incidentally, the group name came to Mazurek in a dream, where he found himself atop the highest building in the world where “it was all light beams and flying discs and dense beautiful sounding explosions.” That's not an inaccurate description of the album's sound, though listeners less receptive to such bold ferocity may deem it more chaotic than listenable.

May 2005