Rob Mazurek / Exploding Star Orchestra ‘Dimensional Stardust’ LP/CD (International Anthem / Nonesuch) 5/5

‘Dimensional Stardust’ is the brand new release from the ever prolific Rob Mazurek and his Exploding Star Orchestra released jointly through Chicago’s International Anthem Recordings label and Nonesuch records.

With Mazurek’s ‘Alternate Moon Cycles’ boasting the distinction of being the very first release from International Anthem, it’s truly incredible how far the label has come since 2014 with stunning releases from some of contemporary jazz’s finest including albums by Makaya McCraven, Angel Bat Dawid, Junius Paul, Carlos Niño and so many others. But while ‘Alternate Moon Cycles’ launched the Chicago label, Mazurek’s trio project – partnering him with Matt Lux on bass and Mikel Patrick Avery on the organ – was already one amongst a long line of Rob Mazurek projects which have seen him helm an incredibly diverse array of ensembles and collectives.

With consistently varying tags ranging from piccolo trumpet player, producer, composer, multi-instrumentalist, Mazurek’s work ranges from the revered Chicago Underground project, Isotope 217, Alien Flower Sutra, Pharoah and the Underground, São Paulo Underground… and then there are the solo projects which plunged Mazurek’s style deep into the realms of electronica like ‘Desert Encrypts, Vol. 1’ and ‘Psychotropic Electric Eel Dreams IV’ (both releases through Astral Spirits, 2019), and ‘Vortice of the Faun’ (2015).

Initially having started life as far back as 2005, the Exploding Star Orchestra was created by Mazurek to demonstrate the diversity of Chicago’s emerging and innovative talent within contemporary jazz. What was, at that time, a fourteen-piece collective saw its evolutions over the years – including a Berlin-based rendition in 2018 – but the line-up amassed for this 2020 project is beyond thrilling as it once again is indicative of a fantastic array of contemporary talent many of which serving as long-time Mazurek collaborators, many of which waving that Chicago flag and many of which standout superstars amongst International Anthem’s own roster. Guitarist Jeff Parker, trumpeter Jaimie Branch, vibraphonist Joel Ross, vocalist Damon Locks, cellist Tomeka Reid serving as just some of the awesome talent assembled throughout the album.

While we’ve mentioned Mazurek’s propensity for creating music within disparate realms from jazz to electronica, the joy within ‘Dimensional Stardust’ is its just-the-right measures of each style which really come together to create something incredibly special. While songs like ‘Sun Core Tet’, ‘Galaxy 1000’ and ‘The Careening Prism Within’ celebrate these otherworldly excursions, strings by Tomeka Reid (cello) and Macie Stewart (violins) alongside Joel Ross’s vibraphone really add some beautiful depth and warm textures to songs like ‘Parable of Inclusion’ which almost ground the album at times, again, striking that perfect balance.

While Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra will surely undergo further evolutions during its life span, I imagine both he and listeners will certainly look back at ‘Dimensional Stardust’ as just a wonderful and inspired incarnation of the project.

Imran Mirza