Exploding Star Orchestra - Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra

Bill Dixon – trumpet
Rob Mazurek – cornet
Nicole Mitchell – flute
Jeff Parker – guitar
Jeb Bishop – trombone
Matt Bauder – tenor saxophone
Josh Berman – cornet
Jason Adasiewicz – vibraphone
Jason Ajemian – bass
Matt Lux – bass
Mike Reed – drums
John Herndon – drums

Coining a name with connotations both cosmic and catastrophic, Rob Mazurek’s orchestra promises much in the way of revelatory large scale organized sound. Whether or not the Chicago 12-piece ensemble lives up to the intentionally-aggrandizing mantle remains debatable, though We are All From Somewhere Else, the 2007 Thrill Jockey debut by the band, did find its way on to dozens of reviewers’ lists as one of the best of the year. What is less open to conjecture is the inspired fit that occurs with the addition of guest Bill Dixon on this self-titled follow-up.

Both Dixon and Mazurek have made careers pushing the parameters of brass instruments. Here, their musical affinity blurs the borders where one’s playing begins and the other’s ends, though Dixon occupies the majority of foreground space, his otherworldly vocabulary of slurs, smears, hiccups and belches sometimes delay-treated and other times reliant solely on the echo-chamber properties of his brass. Other members of the ensemble rise and recede in the frequently fleeting and nebulous sections of interplay with brief statements, but the overall dynamic remains that of principal soloist with active orchestral commentary.”

The set’s three pieces are massively slab-like in size with two distinct versions of Dixon’s “Entrances” framing the disc centerpiece, Mazurek’s “Constellations for Innerlight Projections.” Among the veritable constellation of musical referents, comparisons to Sun Ra’s Arkestra are fairly easy to posit, but the parallels are particularly prominent on the second third of Mazurek’s piece, when Nicole Mitchell’s mellifluous flute guides the group in conjunction with Jason Adasiewicz’s luminous tubular bells. A spoken introduction by Damon Locks of the Chicago dub rock group The Eternals also communicates a heady context of cosmic imagery.

Elsewhere, fanfare-like swells alternate with passages of free-ranging ensemble expression. Dixon caps the piece off with an uncompromising soliloquy of coarse eructations. In both of its incarnations, Dixon’s composition relies initially on the populous rhythm team of tandem drums, tympani, and both breeds of bass. Relentless forward momentum eventually leavens in favor of a more diffusive deployment of instruments that constitute and complement the murky merger of swirling brass with revolving acoustic and electronic elements. The stylistic similarities to some of Mazurek’s work with his Chicago Underground ensembles are striking and epitomize, again, the close artistic confluence between the two composers.

Dixon continues to attract criticism from certain segments of the jazz intelligentsia who ascribe him everything from a rampant ego to a charlatan’s desire to cover up lagging chops with gimmickry. This challenging set once again contravenes such claims, suggesting instead that the aging trumpeter is at the top of his game, particularly when blessed with the company of a contingent of like-minded artists.

Derek Taylor, Dusted Magazine, 2008