Rob Mazurek’s latest with his Exploding Star Orchestra finds hope in the cosmos | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Rob Mazurek’s latest with his Exploding Star Orchestra finds hope in the cosmos


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Dimensional Stardust is a splendid sonic antidote for the spirit-damping insults of a year that can’t end soon enough—growth and transcendence are programmed into the album’s DNA. The Exploding Star Orchestra’s leader, multi-instrumentalist Rob Mazurek, started out playing idiomatically correct hard bop in Chicago’s jazz bars in the 1980s. These days he lives in Marfa, Texas, and he’s as likely to spend his days jamming electronic noise, painting abstract canvases, or designing metal and light installations as he is to play music that operates within the jazz continuum. He first convened the orchestra in 2005 to realize a commission honoring the new concert pavilion in Millennium Park, and the ensemble has since become his most ambitious musical project. Its most recent iterations have incorporated performers from Mazurek’s other collaborations—many of whom are bandleaders in their own right—to bring to life the vibrant, pan-stylistic arrangements that the group uses to frame its fiery instrumental solos and the cosmic orations of vocalist Damon Locks. But on Dimensional Stardust, the multilayered arrangements are more foreground than frame. Shimmering flute and vibraphone patterns wheel like the stars in a clear desert sky over bubbling electronics, repetitive string figures, and contrapuntal brass and keyboard. While the album credits three drummers—Chad Taylor, Mikel Patrick Avery, and John Herndon—they lay out much of the time, which makes the entrance of each new groove that much more galvanizing. Locks sounds like a future-testament prophet, hurling bullhorn-distorted verses from the periphery while the polychromatic music transitions between eerie abstractions and buoyant melodies. “Autumn Pleiades” resolves the album on a beatific note, like the closing credits of a sci-fi epic scored by Alice Coltrane.   v

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