International Anthem / US / 2023
Lightning Dreamers is new work by composer, trumpeter, interdisciplinary abstractivist and modern music mogul Rob Mazurek, who wrote the music for a compacted version of his long-running Exploding Star Orchestra. A follow-up to the acclaimed 2020 Mazurek/ESO release Dimensional Stardust, the album features guitarist Jeff Parker, vocalist Damon Locks, drummer Gerald Cleaver, and pianists Angelica Sanchez and Craig Taborn, among others. It was recorded mostly at the remote Sonic Ranch studios in West Texas, not far from Mazurek’s current home in Marfa, in the days leading up to a debut of the music at Trans Pecos festival in September 2021. Mixing and post-production was headed by Dave Vettraino from IARC studios in Chicago across 2022.
The album’s opener “Future Shaman” was co-produced by Parker and features added percussion by Mazurek’s longtime São Paulo Underground collaborator Mauricio Takara, as well as synth bass from
Cathlene Pineda. The track finds Mazurek and ESO where they left off with Dimensional Stardust – deep in a chromatic beat fantasy of outer-space grooves and Bartok-ian riffs. Vocalist/MC Locks brings the Orson Welles via Deltron 3030 energy while Taborn and Sanchez face-off from behind Wurlitzer pianos and Moog synthesizers. On “Dream Sleeper” Locks’s poetry is swirled in drifting storm clouds of fractured atmospherics, both improvised and composed. “Shape Shifter” finds Mazurek recalling a past life of Isotope 217 – not just for the swinging grooves anchored by Moog basslines, but also in that he returns to the trumpet after years of playing cornet. Once the soaring melodic theme is established the ensemble shifts into On The Corner mode, creating a mangled rhythmic base for Taborn’s Wurlitzer runs and clean guitar soloing from Parker, before shapeshifting yet again under Mazurek’s rising polytonal electronics as Locks’s scattered vocal embellishments take us to the promised land.
The album’s whole B-side is an immersive trip that spans two tracks – “Black River” and “White River” – for which Mazurek interwove takes from the Sonic Ranch sessions with live material from an expanded ESO performance recorded in February 2022 at Sons d’Hiver in Paris, France. In the liner notes for Lightning Dreamers, Mazurek writes that the music is “an evocation of a theme from the “Black River Suite,” which I have been revisiting and reimagining over time.”
He elaborates: “I spent 3 years of my life on the great Rio Negro in Manaus, Brazil, where the Black and White Rivers meet. It is custom and a kind of rebirthing to take a boat to the dividing/divining line of these 2 great rivers and dive into and through, as an affirmation of the simple premise (although We All Come from Somewhere Else) that we all come from the same place... the stars. The feeling of moving between and through these great bodies of water is etched in my soul forever. The visual and sonic material (both thematic and imagined) evokes the spirits past, present and future along this mighty river. The undercurrents of time, the movement of storm systems in the sky, the gentle sway of a boat moving upriver, the power and intensity when the wind decides to blow and the torrential rains fall. The sound of the electric eels below, the melodies of the inhabitants along the way, the
shattering blasts from lightning in the sky. The river flows on and on and on.”
Among the artists featured in the recording from Sons d’Hiver is the late jaimie branch, playing synthesizers & electronics behind the guiding trumpet improvisations of Mazurek (whom she long considered a mentor in multiple mediums). She passed away in August 2022, and her earthly absence has since imbued an otherworldly presence into the chaotic riptide of sound on “Black River.” As production wrapped on the album that Fall, Mazurek was moved to present Lightning Dreamers as a dedication to branch’s memory.