Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Exploding Star Orchestra: Stars Have Shapes

Exploding Star Orchestra
Stars Have Shapes (Delmark; 2010)
Rob Mazurek (cornet, electronics) Matt Bauder (clarinet, sax)
Jeb Bishop (trombone) Jason Stein (bass clarinet)
Nicole Mitchell (flute, voice) Jason Adasiewicz (vibes)
Greg Ward (sax) Matthew Lux (bass)
Josh Abrams (bass) John Herndon (drums)
Mike Reed (drums) Damon Locks (word rocker)

Exploding Star Orchestra is a rotating ensemble led by cornetist Rob Mazurek, a free jazz fixture on the Chicago scene. ESO is one of many groups Mazurek heads up including The Chicago Underground Trio/Quartet, The Chicago Underground Orchestra, Isotope 217, Tigersmilk and the Rob Mazurek Quintet. Stars Have Shapes is an album I couldn't put back on the shelf. Each day for two weeks I would stop and think about one of the songs and remember a passage that I had to hear again. I kept thinking to myself, "wait a minute, there's something else going on here."

Stars Have Shapes builds on the previous efforts of ESO "We Are All From Somewhere" and two self titled albums featuring the late Bill Dixon. Each of these albums circles around the slow ascension of found sounds. In the case of Stars Have Shapes it is rain from the the Amazon, various field recordings and sound manipulation of basic woodwind instruments. The comparisons to the latter material of Coltrane (especially his epic "Ascension"), Sun Ra and even the Detroit collective led Phil Ranelin, The Tribe, are right in discussing. But these legends are only the foundation on the which Stars And Shapes might use to catapult into the stratosphere.

Opening with the episodic journey "Ascension Ghost Impression #2, for me reminiscent of the larger ensemble pieces of Alice and John Coltrane, Mazurek states the case that outing is clearly spiritual trip inward for the listener. Mazurek took the listener on a similar path with "Cosmic Tomes For Sleep Walking Lovers" from the We Ar All From Somewhere. It's a piece that builds and moves through hypnotic and caustic with relative ease. As I mentioned the piece is lengthy (20 minutes) but you quickly get swallowed by wonderful world Mazurek and the musicians have built that you never notice the songs length until you move into the more groove laden beat of "ChromoRocker."

"ChromoRocker" is the shortest piece on Stars Have Shapes but is has beat led by Jason Adasieicz (vibes) and Josh Abrams (bass), two other Chicago stalwarts, that's fast paced, exploratory and shifting in melody.

"Three Blocks Of Light" is the second long player on this never ending journey. It's patterns are a more electronic and densely focused with the ensemble setting a more ethereal tone throughout. There are muted trumpets, tone pitches, insect noises and other manipulated reconstructions are making for some highly inventive listening.

The final piece "Impression #1" is slightly more structure with delicate pulsating touches from Adasiewicz and some rich playing from the horn section. It's a slow moving ballad. Almost gospel like in nature but with a very cerebral tone.

Mazurek's writing and direction on throughout this piece and the entire recording is teeming with originality and diversity. Mazurek dedicates the Stars Have Shapes to Bill Dixon and Fred Anderson, two of the most important avant garde icons to the Chicago scene. Rob Mazurek has turned Exploding Star Orchestrea into one of the most innovative and dynamic avant garde collectives of the new century. And I think both Anderson and Dixon would be extremely proud.

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