Rob Mazurek makes music that tows the line between chaotic musical abstractions and groove-oriented excursions. Composer, cornetist, and visual artist that came up in the Chicago underground music scene, Mazurek made his name in bands like Chicago Underground, Isotope 217, Black Cube Marriage, as well as his project Exploding Star Orchestra. He locked into the spirit of free jazz artists like Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, and Miles at his most esoteric. The music Rob Mazurek creates isn’t an easy trip, but it’s worth sticking around and unlocking the magic within it.
On his latest release as Exploding Star Orchestra titled Lightning Dreamers, Rob Mazurek puts a powerhouse band together to make one of his densest and most rewarding albums yet. With guitarist Jeff Parker, along with Craig Taborn, Angelica Sanchez, Damon Locks, Gerald Cleaver, and Mauricio Takara among others, Lightning Dreamers creates a sound world of chaos and creation, with spoken word sections that give the impression of some lost beatnik collision between poetry, post-bop, and improvisational composition. Sit with it a bit and let it share its musical delicacies.
We’re introduced to the world of Lightning Dreamers via the funky and ethereal “Future Shaman”. Spoken word, a groove-heavy key riff, and the always forward-thinking guitar of Jeff Parker build this off-kilter head bopper. The Wurlitzer brings to mind Mwandishi-era Herbie while the rhythm never loses the beat. You wonder if the whole thing is going to topple over onto itself but it never does. “Dream Sleeper” has the dreamy psychedelia of Bitches Brew. It’s one of those tracks that sounds as if we’re falling through the wormhole to another level of headiness. “Shape Shifter”, despite any saxophone, feels like classic Wayne Shorter. It’s intricate composition and collegiate vibe has an intellectual lean to it. But there’s a sinister riff interspersed to make sure we’re paying attention.
“Black River” is the epic abstraction on the record. 14 minutes of chaotic noise thanks to electronics, bustling wind instruments, voice, and explosions of cymbals. This track is the Black Cube Marriage moment on the record, another Rob Mazurek project that leaned heavily into ambivalent chaos and musical strokes of well-planned madness. This is Herbie’s Sextant and Miles’ Black Magus territory, coming to a quiet, almost tribal resolve. Closer “White River” has the feel of Marc Moulin’s Placebo, a subtle track led by exquisite electric piano and Jeff Parker’s restrained guitar wailing.
In the world of free jazz and experimental ensemble compositions I don’t think anyone is even close to what Rob Mazurek is doing. Exploding Star Orchestra’s Lightning Dreamers gets more satisfying and richer with each listen, revealing subtle melodic nuances that take time to reveal. It’s a sonic journey worth every note.