Exploding Star Orchestra
We Are All From Somewhere Else (Thrill Jockey)
Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra debuted in all its 14-member glory two years ago at Millennium Park. The performance was bittersweet: Despite its imaginative blend of jazz, rock, classical and musique concrète, there was no way, one could imagine, this inventive sound would survive the transition to record.
Happily, we were wrong. On its Thrill Jockey debut, the ESO latches onto the sounds of the Amazon rainforest—where leader and cornetist Mazurek lives—and roots out the cosmic wonder of jazz. It alternately recalls ’70s fusion, hard bop, Reich minimalism and AACM-inspired free jazz, but its inspirations—Mazurek has a Sun Ra–like belief in the metaphysical power of music—give the proceedings a thoroughly original grounding. On some levels, Mazurek is merely perfecting what he’s already good at doing. Through his Chicago Underground groups, Mandarin Movie and Isotope 217, he and engineer John McEntire (who engineers and coproduces here) have come close to perfecting the bold conceit that the art of recording jazz can be as spontaneous as performing it.
The ESO’s membership includes local jazz luminaries (flautist Nicole Mitchell, guitarist Jeff Parker, trombonist Jeb Bishop, vibist Jason Adasiewicz) as well as members of the post-rock elite (marimbist McEntire, bassist Matthew Lux and Tortoise drummer John Herndon). Parker’s characteristically off-balance guitar ranks as one of the stranger solos on a Chicago jazz record this year. The ability to corral such a divergent group, no small feat in the cash-strapped world of jazz, also speaks to Mazurek’s Sun Ra–like organizational capabilities. It’s still too early to call him Sun Ra’s heir apparent, but Mazurek isn’t far away.—Matthew Lurie