• courtesy of Cuneiform Records
  • Rob Mazurek

This evening, cornetist and composer Rob Mazurek‘s long-running, ever-morphing Exploding Star Orchestra will reconvene for a rare concert at the Chicago Cultural Center. The concert will feature the local premieres of two of the bandleader’s suites: 63 Moons of Jupiter and Galactic Parables. The concert will feature a compact version of the group, which often includes more than a dozen musicians: flutist Nicole Mitchell, guitarist Jeff Parker, reedist Matt Bauder, pianist Angelica Sanchez, bassist Matthew Lux, drummer John Herndon, and vocalist Damon Locks. Mazurek has been on an impressively prolific kick in the last couple of years, and the recent release of Matter Anti-Matter (Rogue Art) counts as the fourth album from one of his projects issued in 2013.

That double CD includes a dynamic, hard-charging recording of 63 Moons of Jupiter recorded in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2009 with guest reedist Roscoe Mitchell joined by Mazurek and 13 other players. Mazurek put together ESO for a proposal made by former Department of Cultural Affairs programmer Mike Orlove in 2005—the group made its debut that year as part of the city’s Made in Chicago series. Since then the group has seen its personnel become increasingly fluid, and, in fact, most of Mazurek’s different bands seem to have bled into one another. The Rogue Art recording features Brazilian musicians Mauricio Takara and Guilherme Granado, who first worked with Mazurek in the ongoing Sao Paulo Underground, while just about every small combo led by the cornetist is peopled by musicians who’ve served in ESO at one point or another. Mazurek writes different music for each project, but sometimes material overlaps, and more often, his methodologies do, too.

In recent years he’s been concerned with projecting a massive wall of sound, and that’s certainly the case with 63 Moons, a ferocious, rapidly shifting din girded by the abstract electronics of Kevin Drumm and the polyrhythmic engine of Takara, Herndon, Chad Taylor, and Mike Reed (as well as the loudly ringing vibraphone of Jason Adasiewicz). Yet as thick and heavy as the music gets, Mazurek’s deep love for melody provides relief and contrast—in particular, his braided lines with the sweet flute playing of Mitchell has become a real trademark of his work. Despite the relentless churn, there are passages where the tone changes. On the stunning “Almathea Is Red,” the rhythm section largely sits out, allowing the bracing contrapuntal brass-and-reed arrangements to sparkle (the group also includes trombonist Steve Swell and saxophonist Matana Roberts), and to give Roscoe Mitchell a fecund platform for a typically searing solo. On the other hand, in the liner notes Mitchell says, “I enjoy music where no one is responsible for keeping it going . . . where things can shift,” and there are certainly movements where that seems to happen. On “Elara Beneath the Underground,” each member of the ensemble spins intricate yet forceful improvised lines into a detail-saturated whole that’s utterly electrifying. Below you can check out one of the suite’s most ebullient pieces, “Ganymede and the Ice Parade.”

Rob Mazurek Exploding Star Orchestra, “Ganymede and the Ice Parade”

There’s a second disc included in Matter Anti-Matter dubbed “Electronic Works,” comprising five pieces by Mazurek of solo electronic music (in a recent profile featured in the Wire magazine written by regular Reader contributor Bill Meyer, Mazurek refers to the disc as Sweet and Vicious Like Frankenstein Part 2 (Birth of a Future Being); in 2004 he released the first part on Mego Records, part of a long engagement with abstract electronic sounds that has marked both his jazz-related projects as well as his solo efforts. In fact, Mazurek achieved his most integrated collision of acoustic and electronic sounds earlier this year on The Space Between (Delmark), an effort billed to the Exploding Star Electro-Acoustic Ensemble. There are some conventional acoustic instruments—Mazurek’s cornet, Nicole Mitchell’s flute, Herndon’s drums, Jeff Kowalkowski’s piano, and Carrie Biolo’s percussion, but the sonic focus is on electronic sounds—gurgling, squelching, slinking, and tinkling in lovely concert with the live instrumentation—provided by Mazurek, Todd Carter, Locks, Bauder, and Granado. The album is a collaboration with the video artist Marianne M. Kim, whose work is featured on a DVD included in the package. Below you can check out the album’s title track.

Rob Mazurek Expolding Star Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, “Space Between”

Today’s playlist:

Pixel, Reminder (Cuneiform)
Andrew Cyrille & Haitian Fascination, Route de Frères (TUM)
Meridian Brothers, Desesperanza (Soundway)
Kronos Quartet, Music of Vladimir Martynov (Nonesuch)
Rolf Ericson, Miles Away 1950-52 (Dragon)