Rob Mazurek & Exploding Star Orchestra Bring a Crackling Energy to 'Lightning Dreamers'
Published Mar 30, 2023If you want to draw a line from traditional American jazz to today's electronic-infused scene that birthed Makaya McCraven and BadBadNotGood, you should probably place the fulcrum at Rob Mazurek. Closing in at 30 years as a band leader, the experimental-leaning cornetist steered fellow Chicagoans like the Sea and Cake and Stereolab into a late '90 amalgamation of jazz and indie rock.
On his 60th release as a solo artist (or as part of ensembles like Isotope 217° and Chicago Underground), Mazurek brings back a set of familiar faces. Billed as the Exploding Star Orchestra, longtime collaborators like Jeff Parker (of Tortoise) and Black Monument Ensemble leader Damon Locks are joined by dual duos of keyboardists and percussionists.
Across Lightning Dreamers, Mazurek rarely permits himself to stay prominently front and centre. Leading his group through fluctuating melodies, the aptly titled "Shape Shifter" works as a Chicago post-rock deconstruction by combining Parker's wobbling motorik guitar with Locks' noise injections. At other times, Mazurek descends into dissonance, best exemplified by the audacious "Black River," a composition that covers so much sonic territory that its 14-minute runtime almost feels too short. Here, squalls of commotion, highlighted by Mazurek's free-skronk, are only egged on by Gerard Cleaver's (Matthew Shipp, Roscoe Mitchell) typhoon drum patterns.
Putting ample use to Locks' sampling techniques, much of the LP's aura is built upon cut-up conversations and dialogue. The mood of lead-off track "Future Shamen" is built directly from its opening credo; "Announcing nature electric / Energized vibrations / Eclipse in a digitized nation." This is demonstrated by how keyboardists Craig Taborn (Mats Gustafsson, Ikue Mori) and Angelica Sanchez (Wadada Leo Smith, Michael Formanek) manage to lay down conflicting grooves that define the track's nine minutes. The following track, "Dream Sleeper," takes on a Sun Ra Arkestra mode, featuring spaced out keyboards, echoed horn, and unbridled electric percussion from Mauricio Takara (Mia Doi Todd, São Paulo Underground).
Oddly, closing track "White River" comes off more as an album introduction and stands as Lightning Dreamers' only weak moment. By individually highlighting Mazurek's collaborators for most of its six-minute runtime, the song stalls musically, never building to a climax. Nonetheless, Lightning Dreamers is refreshing for how it demonstrates the veteran cornetist's clear and realized vision. At 58 years old, Mazurek has helped usher jazz into the new millennium by surrounding himself with genre-defying musicians, transporting the arithmetic sound of Chicago through a warped space-time continuum. (International Anthem Recording Co)