Exploding Star Orchestra’s concerts aren’t quite as rare as a comet’s appearances, but they don’t happen all that often. Band leader and cornet player Rob Mazurek (who splits his time between Chicago and Brazil) was in town this weekend, though, conducting a nine-piece version of the orchestra Friday and Saturday (Jan. 8 and 9) at the Green Mill.
This is one jazz group that doesn’t rely too much on solos. Yes, it’s true that many of the fine musicians on the Green Mill stage did get a few minutes in the spotlight with a solo on Friday night, but more often than not, the whole ensemble was playing Mazurek’s compositions at full throttle. Drummer John Herndon (who also plays with instrumental rock band Tortoise) and bassist Matt Lux propelled the music forward, keeping up their rhythmic attack almost all night long.
Exploding Star occasionally used electronic effects, giving the music a tinge of space rock. And the combination of Nicole Mitchell’s amazing flute runs with Jason Adasiewicz’s chiming vibes was a beautiful thing to behold. The group sounded especially powerful when all of the horns and woodwinds joined together — Mazurek, Mitchell, Matt Bauder on reeds and Jeb Bishop on trombone. Damon Locks added Beatnik-style vocals, and last-minute lineup addition David Daniell sat in on guitar — adding some “spice,” as he told me.
I’m looking forward to hearing another album by Exploding Star Orchestra. The group’s debut, We Are All From Somewhere Else, was a sci-fi concept album, but without lyrics. You just have to listen to the music to imagine the story that the band is supposedly telling. According to a press release, it’s “a story involving an exploding star, cosmic transformation, a sting ray, the travels of the sting ray, intelligent conversations with electric eels, the destructive power of humans, the death and ascension of sting ray, the transformation of sting ray ghost to flying bird, and the transformation of bird to phoenix to rocket to flying burning matter to a new-born star.”
I’m not sure that’s exactly what I pictured on Friday night as I heard the orchestra playing pieces from that album and a few new compositions, but there was something transformative about the music.