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Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra - Lightning Dreamers (International Anthem)

31 March 2023

Trumpeter/composer/multi-disciplinarian Rob Mazurek assembled the first version of the Exploding Star Orchestra in 2005, and has used the shapeshifting ensemble as a vehicle for whatever musical flights of fancy he deems necessary ever since. The project’s eighth album, Lightning Dreamers features a more compact version of the often-sprawling beast: guitarist Jeff Parker, keyboardists Craig Taborn and Angelica Sanchez, drummer Gerald Cleaver, percussionist Mauricio Takara, flautist Nicole Mitchell, and vocalist/electronics gremlin Damon Locks. Shrinking the size of the band doesn’t curtail Mazurek’s ambition, however – he casts a wide net here, encompassing everything from jazz funk (“Future Shaman”) to spiritual jazz (“Dream Sleeper,” “White River”) to post bop (“Shape Shifter”). Of course, those genre designations offer signposts more than guidebooks – nothing Mazurek and company perform is as it first seems. Those are all warm-ups, though, for “Black River,” in which the band plays against and around a live recording of itself with different musicians for an epic free/spiritual jazz flood of shimmer and shine. As channels for restless creativity go, the Exploding Star Orchestra is one of the most colorful and compelling.