Dieser Artikel ist in der deutschen Originalfassung im Magazin zum Jazzfest Berlin 2018 nachzulesen, das am 1.–4. November im Haus der Berliner Festspiele und an anderen Orten stattfindet.

The original German-language version of this article was published in the magazine of Jazzfest Berlin 2018, which will take place at Haus der Berliner Festspiele and other venues from 1–4 November.

Invoking astronomic terminology to describe jazz seems the natural choice when the topic at hand is the cosmological creation of musical currents influenced by Afrofuturism. And when the location is Chicago, the instinctive recurrence to astral language seems just as appropriate, because, after all, this is where Saturn-born band-leader and composer Sun Ra (1914 – 1993) formed his Arkestra in the mid-50s, an ensemble that still releases galactic energies in concert-halls around the globe today. The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), founded in Chicago in 1965, initially operated under the slogan of “Great Black Music”. This motto was adopted by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, which was formed at the same time and became particularly renowned in France in the following years. Bass-player Malachi Favors added the dictum “Ancient to the Future”, but this should not lead us to mistake the Art Ensemble’s performances with an embedding in an Afrofuturistic world-view.

The invocation is equally inadequate when it comes to Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra (ESO), because a high-mass star will explode with a short, exponentially heightened luminance, just before it disappears. In astrophysics, this phenomenon is also called Supernova, which raises the following question: Does the explosion of a star, or of celebrity per se, say it all? Is the refusal of any star-cult inscribed into the orchestra and his founder? And if so, which self-concept and which aesthetics are in place here rather than virtuosity, spectacle, glamour and seduction of the audience?

The composer, trumpeter and visual artist Rob Mazurek formed the ESO at the suggestion of the Chicago Cultural Center and the Jazz Institute of Chicago on the occasion of the opening of the Jay-Pritzker Concert Pavilion at Millenium Park. Mazurek was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1965, but he grew up in a suburb of Chicago. Today, he lives around 600 miles to the South-West, in Montford, Texas. He relocated to clear his head for all the compositional ideas that emerged from his manifold previous and new encounters.

During the 1990s, Chicago became a magnet that attracted mainly musicians of the younger generation. They were able to study and perform with experienced AACM-musiciansand they also inspired new musical encounters. Musicians like saxophonists Ken Vandermark or Dave Rempis moved to the city. Chicago-born Matana Roberts studied with AACM-founding member Fred Anderson and eventually brought bass-player Josh Abrams, who had come from Philadelphia, into the house band of the Velvet Lounge, Anderson’s club and the place to be for all those hungry for music at that time. Roberts, Abrams and drummer Chad Taylor from Arizona eventually founded the trio Sticks and Stones. Taylor, Rob Mazurek and guitarist Jeff Parker initiated the Chicago Underground Collective in 1996 and Parker is a member of the band Tortoise, which quite naturally unites post-rock and free jazz in a quite unmistakeable accord. This polymorphous collaboration provides a fertile soil for exchange on equal terms and, in contrast to New York, free from the ubiquitous pressure of competition. This is how Mazurek characterised the scene in a May 2018 interview: “Chicago plants flowers. There is a wonderful, slowly evolving architecture of truly unique, diverse and interesting personalities.”

Architecture is an apt catchword for Mazurek’s concept of how musicians cooperate within the ESO. The ground is laid by two drummers: Chad Taylor and Hamid Drake, born in 1955. They encounter the Berlin vibraphonist Els Vandeweyer. The harmonic corpus is also crafted by two musicians from Berlin: Magda Mayas plays prepared piano and Clavinet, Elias Stemeseder (who has relocated to New York, but is still an active member of KIM Collective) plays keyboard and Fender Rhodes. Among this structure, the strings of cellists Tomeka Reid and Lester St. Louis join those of bassist Jason Ajemian from Chicago. Berlin-based improvisational strings are wielded by Biliana Voutchkova on violin and Julia Reidy on guitar. The breeze within the domain is provided by flautists Nicole Mitchell, AACM-member and with the ESO from the outset, and Sabine Vogel from Berlin. Incidentally, Voutchkova, Reidy and Vogel are members of the Berlin Splitter Orchester, the ensemble that composer, musician, chronicler and member of the AACM George Lewis navigated through his “Creative Construction Set TM” at the 2016 Jazzfest Berlin. Damon Locks and Mazurek themselves pervade this temporary form with electronics as well as their voices. Mazurek’s piccolo trumpet is the only brass instrument. This is what he says about the new suite for the Chicago-Berlin-Ensemble: “What I do is more like creating an architecture than forcing anything on others. There is a pulse, but the musicians are free to inject their own distinctive qualities and rhythmic interpretations into the sound sphere that surrounds this pulse. In my mind’s eye, I see moving bubbles and everyone is invited to become part of this ever-changing fabric.” It’s impossible to make any predictions about the mixture of composition, open spaces for improvisation and conduction. For Mazurek, this speculative element definitely displays dimensions inspired by science fiction. He is an avowed fan of the American science fiction author Samuel R. Delany (*1942), whose writings feature bodies and identities that can become fluid in the tension field between freedom and bondage. After all, an Exploding Star has no specific gender and defies identification. Following the title of the ESO’s latest album, “Galactic Parables”, it is not looking up, inaccessible and in a distant future, but rather a sparking parable for the present.

Das Exploding Star International: Chicago-Berlin mit Rob Mazurek tritt beim Eröffnungskonzert des Jazzfest Berlin  am 1. November in einer speziellen Formation mit Musiker*innen sowohl aus Chicago als auch aus Berlin auf.