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Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra: Dimensional Stardust (International Anthem/Nonesuch)

The bandleader leads 11 musicians on his latest albums

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Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra: Dimensional Stardust
The cover of Dimensional Stardust by Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra

Dimensional Stardust is a musical kaleidoscope. Patterns layer upon patterns, creating complex weaves of melodies, harmonies, and rhythms. Visionary bandleader Rob Mazurek grounds the music in intricate vamps, inventing a style that blends avant-garde jazz, modern classical, Brazilian rhythms, Sun Ra’s spacey explorations and, at times, cartoon music. This incarnation of Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra features 11 musicians who channel the whimsy of a circus, the merrymaking of a samba band, and the rigor of a philharmonic. 

This is a joyous album that doesn’t require soloing. Mazurek himself barely plays (a little piccolo trumpet, a little synth), serving instead as conductor and director. Flutist Nicole Mitchell, who plays beautifully throughout (note her swirling work on “Parable of Inclusion”), gets a lot of attention, and the polyrhythms of percussionists Chad Taylor and Mikel Patrick Avery underpin nearly everything that happens. Damon Locks recites text on several songs, but even he serves as just another ensemble member rather than a vocalist.

Sometimes the musicians—who also include violinist Macie Stewart, cellist Tomeka Reid, vibraphonist Joel Ross, pianist Angelica Sanchez, trumpeter Jaimie Branch, guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and John Herndon on drum machine—all play together in wild birdsong, as on the multilayered, mind-boggling “Dimensional Stardust.” Other times, the vibraphone stands alone or the flute dances over exuberant rhythms. Snatches of other styles creep in: the pizzicato plucking on “Sun Core Tet” suggests Carl Stalling, an insistent electronic beat drives the harsh “Galaxy 1000,” and “Abstract Dark Energy” contains shades of Stereolab. But they’re mere shadows of influence. With Dimensional Stardust, Mazurek has made something entirely fresh yet again.

Learn more about Dimensional Stardust on Amazon!

Steve Greenlee

Steve Greenlee is the managing editor of the Portland Press Herald in Maine and a former longtime editor and jazz critic at The Boston Globe. He plays keyboards in two local cover bands.