If you are able to keep up with Chicago trumpeter Rob Mazurek’s various side projects, you will know that his new band Starlicker is comprised of three members from his Exploding Star Orchestra. So if you take a 14-piece supernova group and reduce it to a trio, you have something that licks stars. Do with that what you will.
The three men in question (who also participated in last year’s Stars Have Shapes) are Mazurek, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, and drummer John Herndon. Herndon has been a member of Tortoise since it was just a duo of (him and Doug McCombs), so Mazurek wisely hands Starlicker’s sound to him for guidance. The majority of Double Demon is a percussive affair with the drums sharply brought out in the mix. John Herndon locks in the beat in no time, keeping things moving right along with no fuss. With six songs coming in at 38 minutes, Starlicker are neither the poster boys of brevity nor self-indulgent free jazz artists lacking wrist watches. What Double Demon does boast is a fully realized sound, one that relies on punch along with finesse. In other words, yeah, Mazurek has done it again. He’s carved a new language out of a style that he already had completely cornered: the trumpet-led post-rock/hard-bop that swims under the Chicago music scene.
The title track has an introduction twice as short as it feels it ought to be. Right away, Starlicker starts to get impatient by stating the theme just as you are trying to get yourself oriented. Mazurek and Adasiewicz waste no time delivering their catchy, cyclical minor key figure while Herndon forcefully drives the ship. Two tracks later, the same thing happens in a more intense fashion on “Orange Blossom”. Jason Adasiewicz’s bright motif briefly locks horns with the racket brought forth by Mazurek and Herndon. As time goes on, it’s harder to tell just where in the hell the downbeat or tonic note is. A quick pause gets the listener oriented before the blossom’s petals start to slowly fall away. The split second silence between “Orange Blossom” and “Andromeda” can be taken for a segue, riding along a faux-“Wipeout” drum pattern.
Starlicker’s unstructured compositions grow into something far more abstract than you might think a trumpet/vibraphone/drum trio would be capable of pulling off. But all you have to do is take a glance at the resumes of all three members to realize that the free-floating shapeless ambience thing is a by-product of their hard work and inter-gigging. “Vodou Cinque”—and to a lesser extent “Triple Hex” don’t exactly feel like Mazurek sat down and “wrote” them, but perhaps that’s the point. Pen plus paper doesn’t always equal something linear.
The album ends with “Skull Cave,” a kind melody that recalls the Far East. This could be tied to the album’s origin, when Rob Mazurek admitted wanting to write for something percussive. Of his 2009 album Sound Is, he said: “It was the idea of the flam. I’d been listening to a lot of gamelan, that ringing quality. I wanted it to sound like a Chinese street parade, slamming cymbals, fireworks. Hitting hard, making it ring.” I take it that’s not exactly what happened on Sound Is (I haven’t heard it yet), but it has happened for Starlicker’s Double Demon. “Skull Cave” takes that parade right into your ear buds.