US-based horn player, composer and multidisciplinary artist Rob Mazurek has recently released his latest project 'Dimensional Stardust' released through International Anthem and Nonesuch Records. Ally got the chance to sit down and talk with Rob about 'Dimensional Stardust' and how he came to be such a formidable creative force.
Horn player and multidisciplinary visionary Rob Mazurek is a true creative force. Emerging into prominence during the 1990s in Chicago, his artistic pursuits have produced over 400 compositions, multiple art installations and has led him to reside in numerous localities, including Brazil and currently Marfa, Texas.
Reflecting on Dimensional Stardust – his latest recorded with his 11-piece Exploding Star Orchestra – Rob tells me “I’m very proud of all these musicians and how they projected themselves and personalities on this record…you feel each player and that's it's very special.” Talking to Rob, one element which strikes you the most, his deep connection to, observations and appreciation of the people and objects that surround him. This seems to extend to all elements of his life, whether that is the stellar musicians he works with, the events of the contemporary world or even the instruments he plays – such as his stunningly unique Schilke piccolo trumpet or the piano given to him by the free jazz great Bill Dixon.
Over his 30-year career, Rob has played and worked with a stunning collection of musical names. Working with contemporary Chicago-based greats, like guitarist Jeff Parker and flautist Nicole Mitchell, or older names like Bill Dixon and Yusef Lateef, one name really sticks with Rob – the little-known pianist Kenny Prince. “I was 17 years old, super keen and wanting to learn how to play jazz”, Rob recalls. Kenny Prince “was a powerhouse of a player and composer. He's one of the first ones to really make a giant impression on me. He didn't write music very well. So, I would go over to his house and I would sit down at the piano with him, and he would play through his compositions, and I would transcribe them and write them out for him. And that's part of the way I learned how to how to compose, you know, he was definitely a seminal figure”.
Imprinted memories, such of those of Kenny Prince, help outline Rob’s creative energy and voracity to explore. However, it’s understanding Rob’s circumstances which helps to really illustrate this. Residing in what he calls the “Marfa Experimental Studio”, each morning Rob kickstarts his day through creating a “morning drone” on his modular synth, spending anywhere between five minutes and two hours filling his home with resonant sounds and powerful energy, which he then feeds into compositions, practising, painting or sculpting. “It all becomes like one kind of dance, you know, back and forth, back and forth. I just love creating in the manner” he tells me jubilantly. Digging into this concept, Rob unveils one of the up-sides of the pandemic from creatives – the breathing space to create. “It's a really incredible thing to focus in on who you are personally,” Rob muses, “because a lot of the times we're moving so quickly, we forget to ruminate on who we even are, so to be able to learn about yourself a little more and to learn how to live with yourself, create yourself without disruption, or all the things that happen in life, has been very eye-opening and interesting to me as well.”
Having a space – such as Marfa Experimental Studio – is a place of paradise for interdisciplinary spirits such as Rob, one which allows him “to keep experimenting and keep pushing. Pushing in a way to open portals up, to possibly understand what we're even doing here”. But what has led to such a free soul? Where did this exploration of the arts start? One of the keys to this answer is Sun Ra.
After feeling constrained and repressed at school, Rob took refuge through the music of Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, but it wasn’t until a performance by Sun Ra at Grand Park, in Chicago, that his perspective on music changed forever. “I remember being part scared, exhilarated, and, you know, chills, I mean, it was everything,” Rob wistfully remembers. “All of a sudden, this whole group of people dressed in gold lamé and colours [appeared]…I remember fire breathers, the African drums, and the voices that kind of rushed out onto the stage, making this unbelievable, beautiful, chaotic sound together, it literally pushed me back in my seat” he laughs. After that, Rob realised “it's not just music anymore”. In that formative moment, he realised that “this is life. This is a life thing. This is a life force. This is much more than just playing some notes into an instrument”.
The formation of Rob’s visceral and performative music can largely be explained by this Sun Ra gig, but his pursuance of creating visual art is down to another experience. “I was always interested in art” Rob reveals, pointing to an early interesting of works by Van Gogh and Matisse. Yet, it was not until studying classical composition under Ralph Dodds that the creative dots were joined. “One of the things that he expressed to me, he insisted that I know more than just music” Rob recounts, encouraging him to visit the Art Institute of Chicago. After mistakenly turning into the modern section, Rob came face-to-face with a Mark Rothko colour field painting. “I just remember standing in front of that painting for what felt like weeks… it just blew my mind” he explains. Recollecting this moment, Rob excitingly says “that got me into painting and I just never stopped. After that happened, my goal was to try to find a way where the sound and the vision became one to fuse that. So, for the last 30 years, I've been trying to reach that same kind of resonance that I get in these compositions and how I play in the artwork… So, the quest for me is always to, has been, and still is to try and find a way to fuse the two in such a way that it's one thing. I've always found myself in a situation and I've always demanded of myself to be true to myself, first and foremost. I've never done this in order to make money. I've done this because I feel it's a kind of some kind of spiritual gift that I want to present to myself and hopefully, to others. So, I've always approached this whole thing of making sound and making vision as a projection of love, you know, an ecstatic life force and energy”.
Dimensional Stardust, Rob’s latest recording, truly embodies this fusion of resonating music and art. Composing the music for the record and creating the artwork in parallel, Rob instantly knew they were a match. “It was very striking,” Rob recalls after seeing his finished artwork, “the cover really projects a resonance and sings to me. It has a sound, it has an energy that I thought perfectly matched the cover, you know, so that's, that's what we used”. Showcasing 10 intricately woven compositions, Dimensional Stardust sees Rob commanding a tightly packed orchestra of International Anthem regulars and other phenomenal Chicago talent, “any group is only a some of the powerful personalities that you have within the group. So, you have Nicole Mitchell, Jeff Parker, Joe Ross, Damon Locks and all these phenomenal players, but also wonderful spiritual beings. You just can't go wrong” he proudly tells me. Set within a science fiction-inspired setting, Damon Locks, Rob’s long-time collaborator, was unleashed to demonstrate his spoken-word talents, “he would take each title and come up with poetic text based on those titles,” Rob discloses. “It's always fascinating to hear what he comes up with. It rarely ever changes.”
Rob’s latest record really does punctuate his freedom of expression and creative life force. With no one musician stealing the limelight, the musicians he has amassed expertly outline his cosmic fascinations and fusion of jazz and classical elements. Few musicians would dream of creating such a stunning balance of style and substance, but of course, Rob continues to push and innovate. Having recently teamed up with Parisian architects to explore urban sounds and structure, Rob’s racing mind has helped to create sound-driven architecture based on the sound of an existing urban area. “We just created this really beautiful architecture based on the sound of the actual site,” he tells me, “I want to pursue this idea more, you know, and try to see if I can push the visual stuff not just with painting and sculpture, but also in a larger architectural way”. Connecting sound, visual elements and performances, Rob Mazurek’s hunger to explore cannot be stopped. If it were not for figures like Rob, the world would be a much duller and colourless place.
Keep up-to-date with Rob Mazurek via his socials and website: