Review: São Paulo Underground – Cantos Invisíveis

CD. Cuneiform Records

São Paulo Underground, the Brazilian-based trio of multi-instrumentalists led by cornetist Rob Mazurek, do not immediately evoke the white sandy beaches, cheese-wire thongs and extravagant headwear that one might expect from a project so deeply entrenched in its environment. This rather supposes that this is indeed what Brazil is – a non-stop carnival of white teeth, zooming lenses and pensioners dancing impromptu jigs because of the canned ecstasy pumped into the rarefied air. Instead, we have innumerable chattering voices, industrial heaving and the palpable tension of a society which both covets its heritage yet is obliged to move into a different time. It’s fair to say I’ve not been to Brazil for a while (some may say “never”), so I suspect their perspective has fewer clips of Barry Manilow popping up and is slightly nearer the reality.

Gliding past like a rather more turbulent aural version of Koyaanisqatsi, this is experimental jazz which leans heavily on the sound of Tago Mago-era Can – snatched conversations which cause you to crane your ear, despite you not understanding the language; thumped rhythms tumbling down stairs and shrill, fruity cornet-work tempered by echoing effects and creaking mellotrons. At their most enchanting, Olhalui, the shamanic chanting is almost chokingly toxic, the strangulating relentlessness of the looping voices defying any rationalisation of time period or intent. Of Golden Summer offers a more reflective tone, the kind of mood the end of 70’s American cop shows ooze when the investigation is completed and the weary detective heads off down the highway. Although the style differs from track to track, it all makes sense as one entity – there’s no element of forcing in pieces for the sake of it or, thank God, musical dexterity for posturings sake.

The album concludes with its most angular and expansive track, a 16-minute piece titled Falling Down From the Sky Like Some Damned Ghost, a christening I would ordinarily banish to the corner of the room to think about what it had done. Here we have distant bells which sound like birdsong, more indiscernible chanting and increasingly scattershot percussion than heard previously. The synth distortion is ramped up and the distant sounds of a party sound more like a knackered ice cream van than a hedonistic rave, again, a more believable sonic postcard of a place than many a corny attempt you may have heard in the past. The layers are unpeelable but distinct, offering a textured trip to a place you may enjoy visiting but might not return with the same number of limbs. Recommended.