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Album Review

The Exploding Star Orchestra, a large group led by Chicago-based trumpeter and composer Rob Mazurek, is an improvising ensemble that shifts from project to project. The group's debut CD, We Are All from Somewhere Else, and its second release, co-credited to trumpeter Bill Dixon, offered both swirling storms of funky electronic jazz and music with orchestral scope and atmospheric beauty. On the latter album, Dixon's squiggly lines burst forth like Cy Twombly scribbling over a Mark Rothko painting. This disc, like We Are All from Somewhere Else, owes something to Sun Ra in its use of large ensembles for unorthodox purposes, but it takes a lot from other regions of the avant-garde, too, including the importation of non-musical sound effects (bicycles, insects, rain) and the use of specially prepared instruments. The Bill Dixon collaboration proved that Exploding Star could kick it live; this album displays their mastery of the studio. The difference is the difference between Miles Davis' 1975 live album Agharta and the slow-burning studio epic "He Loved Him Madly," recorded with almost the same band on Get Up with It. The two long tracks on Stars Have Shapes, "Ascension Ghost Impression No. 2" and "Three Blocks of Light," are deep, dark, resonant caves in which musicians and listeners wander and explore; the two short pieces, "ChromoRocker" and "Impression No. 1," offer more conventional free jazz grooves, at times sounding remarkably similar to Herbie Hancock's work with Mwandishi.


Formed: 2005 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '00s, '10s

The Exploding Star Orchestra came into being when the Chicago Cultural Center and the Jazz Institute approached cornetist and composer Rob Mazurek about putting together an avant-garde jazz ensemble for a Chicago concert. Mazurek assembled an orchestra of improvising Chicago musicians (including several members of Tortoise), rehearsed it, and when the dust settled, an interlocking suite called We Are All from Somewhere Else was performed. Telling a celestial story that combined stars, stingrays,...
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