September 2007


Exploding Star Orchestra
at the Guelph Jazz Festival
September 6, 2007 Mitchell Hall Guelph
Meteor Showers on a Blistering Hot Night
by Tom Sekowski with photos by Dougal Bichan
Let’s be brutally honest. Mitchell Hall is not exactly the prime venue to see a large ensemble. Many times in the past, this Guelph stage (located inside St. George Church) served as a podium for large ensembles. Each time — Willem Breuker Kollektief, Hard Rubber Orchestra, Bix Bent Braam, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble — the stage was a tad too small to comfortably fit bands to allow them free movement and total freedom to play their music to its full potential.

This time around, the stage was actually a blessing in disguise, allowing the six piece Exploding Star Orchestra enough freedom to play music exactly the way it was intended. Sure, acoustics were still an issue as Mitchell Hall falls flat in that respect when compared to the space inside the church itself.

Enough of the whining, and on to the performance at hand. Exploding Star Orchestra is a fresh ensemble, put together only two years ago by cornet player/trumpeter/computer freak Rob Mazurek. With only one album to their name (this year’s We Are All From Somewhere Else released by Thrill Jockey), the Orchestra is a learning experience in one respect or another for all members. While Mazurek gets to hone in on his conducting and leadership skills, other members get to polish off their listening and interactive skills.

Though the Orchestra on the album features a dozen musicians, the live setting only saw a total of six people, though equally, these six produced enough ruckus and pouncing music to last a lifetime. Alongside Mazurek on cornet and laptop, we got Nicole Mitchell on flute, Matt Bauder on bass clarinet and tenor, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and a rhythm section made up of bassist Jason Ajemian and drummer Mike Reed.

Very early on during the two hour long performance, there was a clear demarcation of two camps. One was made up of Mazurek, Mitchell and Bauder, while the other one featured the rhythm section, along with the vibraphone player. Mazurek and Bauder traded off clean lines consecutively. While Mazurek blasted away on cornet, Bauder made some powerful statements on the tenor. He was even better when he switched over to bass clarinet. His deep tone ensured that at this point, the music took on a mystical quality. Mitchell was fury and overt emotion in one. Her furious blows were spiced up with fervent vocalizing and lovely harmony at every turn. The rhythm section was tight, with Reed reminding me of a younger Andrew Cyrille in his persistence to dive right off the deep end.

Exploding Star Orchestra

Rob Mazurek

What grabbed me most was the exciting playing of Jason Adasiewicz. This vibraphone player has got it all — pizzazz, movement and perfect harmony to boot. He’s Walt Dickerson on acid, striking his instrument with such consistent fervour and conviction; you just know this music has been flowing deep in his veins since birth. Better yet, he was even allowed to take a brief solo number that was as striking as it was warm and musically convincing on every level.

The leader was all punches. Mazurek would weave in between Bauder’s tenor fury and Mitchell’s warmly served-up flute concoctions. On rare occasions, he would kneel down to his laptop and trigger a few samples (buzzing meteor showers and dialogue) that drove the music further off into another galaxy.

Problem is, how does one describe the music the Orchestra played? Was it jazz, composed music or improvisation? Truth be told, there were stark elements of all three. Though Mazurek runs a tight ship, every player was allowed to run off on the briefest of tangents and play their own thing for a minute or two. The peaks and valleys in every piece came and went quickly. Sharp crescendos and changes were evident everywhere. The band would jump through hoops every few minutes, ensuring the music sounded challenging and fresh at every single curve.

Superlative, mesmerizing and hot to its core, Exploding Star Orchestra gave what amounted to one of the very best shows within Mitchell Hall’s confines that I’ve seen so far. Blistering hot night. One that will live on in my memory banks for years to come.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Tom Sekowski
• • • • • •
Dougal Bichan
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The Live Music Report

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