More than most artists, cornetist Rob Mazurek operates on a continuum. The deeper you get into his electro-acoustic music, the greater sense you have of it developing not progressively but by circling around and expanding its initial impulses. Whether you call Mazurek’s new Pulsar Quartet an offshoot of his Exploding Star Orchestra, an update of his Chicago Underground units or a standalone group—it’s the first of his bands to feature on record the terrific New York-based pianist Angelica Sanchez—Stellar Pulsations seems to inhabit a familiar place and time.
That isn’t to say the music doesn’t take some notable side turns. Though the planetary titles of the songs—“Primitive Jupiter,” “Magic Saturn,” et al.—are consistent with Mazurek’s otherworldly soundscapes, Stellar Pulsations travels the spaceways in straighter, bolder, more naturalistic lines. Mazurek has given his electronic and computer effects the day off. In their place, Sanchez (who has performed with ESO) is an exceptional foil for him with her tuneful free-jazz sprawl and floating lyricism. “Twister Uranus,” carried by drummer John Herndon’s convulsive and rolling patterns and bassist Matthew Lux’s tolling electric lines, ranks among Mazurek’s hardest-hitting pieces. “Spanish Venus” radiates melodic purity via muted horn and flowing keys.
More than most of his recent work, Stellar Pulsations plays to Mazurek’s strengths as a postbop stylist. His tonal control alone is worth the price of admission with its bright edges, liquid flutters, muted warmth and, when the moment calls for it, splatter power. One only hopes, as busy as Mazurek is (his other ongoing bands include the popular São Paulo Underground and Starlicker), the Pulsar Quartet becomes an ongoing project.