Listening through the entirety of Exoplanet feels like a satisfying journey. There’s a movement from beginning to end of this jazzy exploration that takes you for a ride. When the album closes it feels like a grand accomplishment with a clear distinction between point A and point B. Only here it feels like you’ve traveled lightyears away in a place that feels like home..
This is the first project for Rob Frye as band leader, and yet he’s set his sights on cosmic proportions. Each track in this album builds up into a wider narrative, one that starts from “Sunrise on Pulina” and ends on “Sunset on Jgelu”.
The compositions here are nothing short of otherworldly, with familiar elements like horns, drums and tribal percussion intermingling seamlessly with synths and drum machines. They hover on the middle ground as both compositions and improvisations, nothing on the level of free jazz but not feeling as restrained either.
The aforementioned first and last tracks feel relatively familiar, evoking a similar sense of grandeur to the soundtrack of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Vangelis’ work on Blade Runner. The instruments seem to soar and dip on an endless horizon, ready to face the extraterrestrial journey ahead. The drums sometimes feel tribal, the woodwinds mimicking the cries of wildlife. Yet as the album progresses we get a glimpse at the weird and wonderful environments of deep space in the universe of Exoplanet.
“XC175020” feels totally alien with its mix of digital signals that mimic an electronic transmission. The horns follow along with this oddity, making the mix feel epic while stuck in an atmosphere that’s totally incomprehensible for the human mind. “Innercosmos” descends into a patchwork of ambient hums and beeps, with gaps of empty space in between that pulls us further into the deepest recesses of the unknown.
The wonder picks up again in “Jupiter Control” where we’re dropped into a pool of bubbling jazz arpeggios, a track that makes me feel suspended, swimming along with the space jellyfish. “Lightship Sgr A Star” is the most fun I’ve had listening to jazz music in a long while. At first I envisioned something possibly out of Star Trek, but instead I was transported into a groovy cantina where the saxophone soloist and an array of drumming aliens make sure the guests have a wonderful time at the space truck stop.
What better way for Rob Frye to stretch out his love for unconventional sounds and textures, than to take us for a ride through the expanse of this wild universe. We’re not on the verge of interstellar travel as of yet, but Exoplanet is the next best thing.