As big a fan as I am of the Chicago Underground albums through the years, I still think this is Rob Mazurek's crowning achievement. He assembled the cream of the crop in Chicago Avant-Garde Jazz musicians into John McIntyre's studio for an unbelievable undertaking, a contemporary big band orchestra. Not one based soley on free improvisation either. These are complicated compositions requiring rehearsals that only a certain brand of disciplined musician could endure.
Here you'll find the enormous, blustering and sometimes furious sounds of Sun Ra Arkestra's "Space is the Place", the tact and grace of John Coltrane's "Africa Brass Sessions" and the elegance of Steve Reich's "Music for Mallets, Organ and Voice".
The narrative here is a regeneration myth included in the liner notes. A star explodes, sending light energy barreling through the cosmos. These wave particles enter the atmosphere of a planet and strike water, which transforms the photons into an elegant sting ray. Human pollution quickly chokes the ray, but like its stellar point of origin, the animal cannot be destroyed once and for all. The sting ray’s ghost ascends into the sky, rockets beyond the stratosphere, bursts in outer space, and ultimately births a new star. Then the entire journey happens in reverse, leading us right back to where we started.
Mazurek wants to heal us with his music. Call him pretentious if you want. I see him as the new and necessary mystic guru of the genre that made me truly fall in love with music. This is a beautiful album that heralds the struggle for the survival of Jazz. And this is the crew that will keep the ship afloat.
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