Sao Paulo Underground's second Cuneiform release, 2013's Beija Flors Velho e Sujo, translates as Old and Dirty Hummingbirds -- a rather contradictory title but an appropriate one for an album melding the nimble with the lowdown (and the abstract and trippily disorienting). Now solidified into the trio of Rob Mazurek (cornet, Evolver, ring modulator, analog delay, harmonium), Mauricio Takara (percussion, cavaquinho, electronics), and Guilherme Granado (keyboards, synthesizer, sampler, voice), Sao Paulo Underground take listeners on a kaleidoscopic journey across the album's ten tracks, which were trotted out during a 2012 U.S.-Canadian tour before being recorded and mixed in Chicago -- with deep sonic manipulation -- for inclusion here. A variation on the album's title and a shout-out to the late ODB, "Ol' Dirty Hummingbird" begins as muscular as a tank, its thick bassline and splashy rhythm undergirding Mazurek's cornet solo, initially captured as if in mid-flight. The unexpected arrives scarcely a minute in, with an abrupt shift into muted tribalism and a ceremonial flavor in Granado's synths; after a bridge that recapitulates the intro, the listener is catapulted into a realm of ghostly and mysterious electronica, after which the returning ceremonial motif is momentarily buried in low squelches before Mazurek's stately but subdued cornet emerges to end the track on an elegiac note.
"Into the Rising Sun" dips into the album's tropicalia flavors with catchy ebullience in the horn melody and solo, as the synths and electronics maintain their bass buzz and inventive distorted treatments in the middle frequencies. Nearly eight minutes in length, "Arnus HuSar" is an homage to a certain visitor from Saturn and features spacy effects and improvs in the keys, muted cornet, and drums over a throbbing vamp that soldiers on until the last minute of the nearly eight-minute track's duration, after which Mazurek steps out with a lovely solo cornet segue into the album's biggest surprise of all, a sampling of Mazurek and Granado accompanied by the rather ornate stylings of an unnamed classical pianist on a rendition of "Over the Rainbow" from a club in Granada, Spain. Yes, Beija Flors Velho e Sujo is literally all over the map, earthly and otherwise. And that's a good thing, particularly as the album winds through such latter-half tuneful numbers as "The Love I Feel for You Is More Real Than Ever," "Basilio's Crazy Wedding Song," and the closing "Taking Back the Sea Is No Easy Task," which marry melodicism, drive, and experimentation in concise packages that display Sao Paulo Underground at their best. The band's previous Cuneiform release, 2011's Tres Cabe‡as Loucuras, may have offered some moments of contrasting bright clarity -- Takara's untreated cavaquinho on "Carambola," the presence of guest vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz on a pair of tracks -- generally missing here, but for those who wish to experience the electrified Mazurek and friends dancing on the edge and not tumbling over an extended-form cliff, Beija Flors Velho e Sujo is a fine album worthy of investigation. ~ Dave Lynch