Working from a commission by the Chicago Cultural Center and the Jazz Institute to assemble a group representing Chicago's contemporary avant-garde, cornetist/composer Rob Mazurek's newest venture, the Exploding Star Orchestra, has long since eclipsed its provisional origins. Conceptualized and composed between Brazil, France and the States, We Are All From Somewhere Else is as ambitious in scope as it is in execution.
Mazurek's recent music sounds partially inspired by his new home in São Paulo, where he lives with his Brazilian-born scientist wife. The sonic interpretation of a surreal parable about cosmic transformation involving electric eels, stingrays, exploding stars and phoenix-like rebirth, the album follows the narrative structure of a suite.
The Exploding Star Orchestra features a bevy of Chicago's finest improvisers, including the majority of Tortoise and some notable AACM members. While it's founded on the principle of democratic improvisation, and each member contributes equally to the ensemble sound, there are standouts. Nicole Mitchell's dulcet flute, Jeff Parker's edgy guitar, Jim Baker's otherworldly ARP synthesizer and the leader's expressive cornet all make particularly notable appearances.
Mazurek arranges a dizzying array of stylistic challenges for the Orchestra to navigate. The opening suite, "Sting Ray And The Beginning of Time" begins with a thunderous, propulsive vamp and a series of vivid solos bolstered by intricate, angular charts, suggesting a hybrid of the big bands of Muhal Richard Abrams, Don Ellis and Charles Mingus. Soloists materialize in and out of the mix, taking turns weaving brief thematic statements through the throbbing undertow.
"Psycho-Tropic Electric Eel Dream" features the sounds of pre-recorded electric eels from the INPA research lab in Manaus, Brazil. Accompanied by Jim Baker's ARP synthesizer and Nicole Mitchell's flute, the tune exudes a haunting electronic ambience. Serving as a bridge between suites, Jim Baker's majestic solo piano meditation on the stately interlude, "Black Sun," provides a respite in the eye of the storm.
The final suite, "Cosmic Tomes For Sleep Walking Lovers," opens with reversed recordings of Amazonian storms before the ensemble erupts, raging full-on in a riot of circuitous exhortation. Modulating from Ascension-like ecstasy into an intricate cyclic pattern, the second part gallops along hypnotically, recalling the minimalist drive of early Phillip Glass and Terry Riley. Invoking earlier styles, the third part of the suite references the multi-hued arrangements of Gil Evans and Sun Ra, with a nod to Miles Davis' "All Blues" interpolated into the tune's waltz rhythm.
Futuristic, adventurous and accessible, We Are All From Somewhere Else is Mazurek's most ambitious and fully realized statement to datea stunning achievement, highly recommended.
Track Listing: Sting Ray And The Beginning of Time: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 (Psycho-Tropic Electric Eel Dream), Part 4; Black Sun; Cosmic Tomes For Sleep Walking Lovers: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 (Fifteen Ways Towards A Finite Universe), Part 5.
Personnel: Rob Mazurek: composer, director, cornet, computer; Nicole Mitchell: flutes, voice; Jeb Bishop:
trombone; Corey Wilkes: flugelhorn; Josh Berman: cornet; Matt Bauder: bass clarinet, tenor
saxophone; Jeff Parker: guitar; Jim Baker: piano, ARP synthesizer, pianette; Jason Adasiewicz:
vibraphone; John McIntyre: marimba, tubular bells; Matt Lux: electric bass; Jason Ajemian:
acoustic bass; Mike Reed: drums, percussion, saw; John Herndon: drums.