What attracted me to want to review Rob Mazurek's new Delmark release, sound is, was the all-star lineup of talent he had assembled. John Herndon on drums (Tortoise, the For Carnation), Matthew Lux on bass guitar (Isotope 217, Iron and Wine) Josh Abrams on acoustic bass (Town and Country, Black Earth Ensemble) and Jason Adasiewicz on vibes (Loose Assembly, Rolldown) is a pretty impressive lineup of guys doing some out-of-the-box music, and Mazurek's leadership had to me the makings of an album that, while avant-garde in ambition, would still appeal to those who wanted good music. Some new ideas, some new compositions that are free to work or not, but musicians with mastery of their instruments and demonstrating a sense of free expression that simply can't be written very easily on musical notation paper.
The problem with avant-garde, besides the (real or imagined) pretentiousness is the loftiness of purpose, as usually set up by breathy press releases. When I read "Jazz cornetist Rob Mazurek consistently pushes beyond the expectations of his listeners, drawing together ideas out of sound, personalities out of space, and fusing color and light into the tones of his music". my mind screamed male bovine excrement. Perhaps because I simply can't suffer puffy writing, or because it's just so damned difficult to describe music that's, well, not pop, and makes no bones about accessibility or lack thereof.
A few of the compositions Mazurek puts forth don't work very well in my opinion for any number of reasons I find sonically distasteful; that is not to say anyone else will or will not like the same thing. For the most part, though, the album is a solid listen. Will anyone else like this album? I believe so, especially those like me who don't mind the lofty goals of avant-garde being met with an overall shine and polish of compositions which at least play lip service to melody, harmony, and rhythm and don't seem to punish you for "not getting it."