If the name Pulsar Quartet sounds futuristic, welcome to the world of Rob Mazurek. Chicago has a long and deep tradition of exploration in jazz (think of the Art Ensemble of Chicago) so it’s no surprise that, while in his formative years there, Mazurek caught the bug. In 1996 he became a leader in the experimental scene when he established the Chicago Underground sessions at a local club. For the past two decades he has played and recorded with some of the most forward-thinking musicians in Chicago and elsewhere. .
On his new album, with its space-age title, Mazurek continues this tradition with plenty of room for his band mates. For instance, on the album’s opening tune, “Primitive Jupiter,” it’s pianist Angelica Sanchez who has the most stunning solo. Her playing here is so percussive it’s reminiscent of the great Don Pullen. Mazurek’s cornet is clearly in the foreground on “Magic Saturn,” the plaintive ballad that follows. A brilliant technician, his style includes some nicely strained sounds that evoke a reaching for the unattainable. .
By the time we get to “Spiral Mercury” the whole band is in full-tilt attack mode with drummer John Herndon and bassist Matthew Lux driving the propulsive motion. By now you’ve noticed the planetary titles of the tunes, which continue with “Twister Uranus,” “Spanish Venus,” and others. .
While it might seem obvious to take the bait and use terms like otherworldly to describe Mazurek’s music, it’s kind of a useful term. It’s refreshing to hear a jazz album that does not contain a single standard but instead forges ahead into uncharted territory. “Stellar Pulsations” contains the great musicianship of the best jazz albums, but it’s got something else that’s in short supply: a sense of discovery. None of the tunes or the solos are the least bit predictable and after multiple listenings, there is plenty still to discover.