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Published: 2006/11/19
by Pat Buzby

We are all from somewhere else – Exploding Star Orchestra

Thrill Jockey 131

While some members of the ’90s Chicago class of improvisational experimenters have stayed their original courses, others have taken surprising new paths. One of those is Rob Mazurek, who left Chicago for Brazil a few years ago and has swerved from modal jazz into harsh electronics in several recent projects. However, the Exploding Star Orchestra finds him touching base with old and new Chicago compatriots (including three-fifths of Tortoise and recent jazz stalwarts such as Nicole Mitchell and Corey Wilkes, among others in a 14-piece ensemble) and bringing his recent sonic lessons to bear on a melodic, primarily acoustic set of material.

The distorted drums of Mike Reed and John Herndon lend the CD an edge, but the moods of the disc are alternately upbeat and languid. The mass of horns which opens “Cosmic Tomes For Sleep-Walking Lovers” is reminiscent of Coltrane’s Ascension, but here they convey celebration rather than anguish or protest. While the music resembles Sun Ra less than the title might lead one to expect, the sci-fi soundtrack ostinati and synth noises suggest a “space is the place” theme. Guitarist Jeff Parker is especially fiery in his brief solo spots, and Mitchell’s flute and Mazurek’s cornet get several turns in the spotlight.

As with most Mazurek CDs, perhaps intentionally, there are some puzzling elements. “Black Sun” is an attractive classical-flavored piano solo by Jim Baker, but it’s not clear what purpose it serves other than acting as a respite between the two brass-heavy suites. As well, one might wish for some passages (such as the attractive second part of “Sting Ray and the Beginning of Time”) to last longer while others (such as the free-form third part of the same piece) could have finished sooner.

Nonetheless, Mazurek, despite no longer being a Chicagoan, has fashioned a fine platform for several members of the Chicago scene with this disc. We are all from somewhere else shows the 90’s Chicago class still alive and well, and enjoying itself.

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