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Thollem / Mazurek

Blind Curves and Box Canyons

Thollem / Mazurek: Blind Curves and Box Canyons (Relative Pitch)

Recorded at an exhibition of visual works by Chicago trumpeter Rob Mazurek in Texas, this was the first meeting with pianist Thollem McDonas, in an ardent session of explorative improvisation using electric and analog piano, sythn, samplers, cornet, voice, bells and effects; inquisitive and cathartic music of great drive.

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product information:

UPC: 616892467649

Label: Relative Pitch
Catalog ID: RPR 1054
Squidco Product Code: 23751

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2017
Country: USA
Packaging: Digipack
Recorded at Marfa Book Company at the Lumberyard, in Marfa, Texas, on January 23rd and 24th, 2016 by Gory Smelley.


Thollem McDonas-modified electric piano, analog effects

Rob Mazurek-cornet, voice, bells, modular synth, sampler

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Artist Biographies:

"Thollem is a pianist, keyboardist, organist, composer, improviser, singer-songwriter, activist, author and teacher. He's spent his life skirting and erasing the edges of boundaries musically, culturally, geographically. His work is ever changing, evolving and responding to the times and his experiences, both as a soloist and in collaboration with hundreds of artists across idioms and disciplines. Though Thollem's widely known as an acoustic piano player, he's also the lead vocalist for the Italian agit-punk band Tsigoti and has recently branched out significantly into the world of electronics through a multitude of projects.

Thollem was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, studying the standard classical piano repertoire, composing and improvising since he was a young child and absorbing the myriad of sounds of his culturally diverse upbringing. After dedicating his 20s and 30s to grassroots political activism, he's refocused his attention these last 15 years on a breadth of musics that incorporate his myriad experiences and curiosities. In this last decade alone, he has played well over 1,000 concerts throughout N. America and Europe as a soloist and in collaboration with hundreds of musicians, dancers, and filmmakers. As leader or co-leader, he has released over 50 albums in that span on 22 different vanguard labels to international critical acclaim. "Thollem is an astounding pianist who understands the huge scope of the instrument" (Terry Riley) and who continues to delve into the furthest reaches and sub-genres of Post-Classical, Free Jazz, Noise, Punk, dance and film. A brief cross section of his many recent collaborators include William Parker, Pauline Oliveros, Stefano Scodanibbio, Nels Cline, Mike Watt, Rob Mazurek, Martha Colburn and ACVilla. He is the founding director of Estamos Ensemble, a Mexican-American cross border ensemble for musical exchange as well as the lead singer of the Italian agit-punk band Tsigoti. Presently Thollem is developing an audio/visual experience about America through an 8 month, 48 state odyssey with his partner the videographer ACVilla. He's also a published author about art, politics and his travels in The Anthology of Essays On Deep Listening, Full Moon Magazine (Prague) and First American Art Magazine."

-Thollem McDonas Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

"Rob Mazurek is an American electro-acoustic composer, cornetist, improviser and visual artist living in Chicago, Illinois. As a composer, Rob Mazurek has written over 300 original compositions over the past 30 years, and has released 55 recordings on various labels. He currently leads a number of ensembles, including Exploding Star Orchestra, Pharoah and the Underground (featuring Pharoah Sanders), Chicago Underground, Pulsar Quartet, São Paulo Underground, Skull Sessions, Sound Is Quintet, Starlicker, Mandarin Movie and Throne of the House of Good and Evil, each of which possesses its own distinct musical personality.

He has collaborated with a wide variety of artists, such as Bill Dixon, Pharoah Sanders, Mike Ladd, Roscoe Mitchell, Yusef Lateef, Fred Anderson, Naná Vasconcelos, Mamelo Sound System, Kassin and Marcelo Camelo and others. Additionally, Rob Mazurek works as a visual artist (incorporating sound, painting and video) with numerous international performances, exhibitions and artist residencies."

-Rob Mazurek Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.
track listing:

1. Shouts 18:55

2. Hollers 20:52

3. Howls 6:23
sample the album:

descriptions, reviews, &c.

"Thollem McDonas and Rob Mazurek met for the first time in January 2016 in Marfa, Texas to record and perform a concert for the closing of "Marfa Loops Shouts and Hollers," an exhibition of visual works by Mazurek. The recording, scheduled for release in April 2017 on New York record label Relative Pitch Records, offers listeners a front row seat at this electric first encounter. This duo reaches out into the desert for endless possibilities. The results are coherent and deliver a constant driving force that urges the collaboration to continue into uncharted territories."-Relative Pitch

"To a lot of people, the slang to describe a remote location is 'bum frick Egypt,' but in Texas, that place is called Marfa. Situated almost 200 miles southeast of El Paso near Big Bend and well away from any major highways, this hamlet of less than two thousand residents in the Trans-Pecos high desert has paradoxically become a mecca for minimalist art. That drew in a certain visual artist from Chicago to hold an exhibit of his works at the Marfa Book Company.

But this visual artist is an audio artist aka musician, too. Meet Rob Mazurek, the composer, arranger, cornetist and electro-acoustic jazz pioneer.

So after the art exhibit of Mazurek's creations called "Marfa Loops Shouts and Hollers" was held at the Book Company in January of 2016, a concert was performed by Mazurek along with Thollem McDonas whom he first met for this performance of experimental music spontaneously made up between them using a modified electric piano, analog effects, voice, modular synth, a sampler and, of course, a cornet. Blind Curves and Box Canyons (April 21, 2017, Relative Pitch Records) captures those first sparks between the two in Marfa.

The San Francisco native McDonas has worn a lot of hats in his life: as a child, he learned classical piano, improv and composing. He spent much of his young adult life in political activism and one of his current gigs is as lead singer of a protest punk band from Italy. It's only fairly recently that this author, teacher, singer-songwriter and keyboardist had diversified into electronics but given everything he's done up to now, it was a natural move for him.

The primary common denominator of these men whose paths hadn't crossed until at this lonely outpost in West Texas is that improvisation is a primary passion. For McDonas, it was an opportunity to explore that passion with another master of creating art on the fly who comes from the jazz world (though Thollem had made a record with Nels Cline and William Parker not that long ago). Mazurek for his part got to go one-on-one with a keyboardist who likewise spent significant time in both the acoustic and non-acoustic realms relishing the challenge to reconcile the two.

Thollem's fuzzed out and distorted electric piano makes the right companion to Mazurek's analog synth as well as his horn. Those periodic flights from the latter's cornet can quickly ground the assortment of crude electronic abrasiveness and odd sonorities in organic affection. A particularly graceful horn soliloquy during "Hollers" brings the point home.

Toward the end of "Shouts," the electric piano/cornet dialog begins to resemble jazz, albeit of the avant-garde variety, and while most of the time, the emphasis is on creating texture and linear sonic progression, the influence of jazz does show up from time to time. Mazurek also makes use of his voice (perhaps even more than he's ever done in the past) for roaring and wailing, another source of intonation and another piece of the puzzle that goes into this whole strange, evolving stew of sounds.

Following two twenty minute sonic odysseys "Shouts" and "Hollers" comes the expeditious "Howls," which commences on Thollem's extemporaneous single-note patterns that hints at flamenco and following a volley of artificially-produced percussive noises, evolves into a dense, quivering drone.

The sensation that comes from music so experimental and improvisational is amplified from this product being produced by the artists' first encounter with each other. Blind Curves and Box Canyons has such rapport and symmetry that Thollem McDonas and Rob Mazurek must have surprised not just their audience but also themselves."-S. Victor Aaron, Something Else Review

This album has been reviewed on our magazine:

The Squid
The Squid's Ear!

Get additional information at Something Else!
Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
Duo Recordings
West Coast/Pacific US Jazz
Piano & Keyboards
Recordings featuring brass instruments - trumpets, trombones, tubas, other horns

Search for other titles on the label:
Relative Pitch.

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