AMN Reviews: Rob Frye – Exoplanet (2021; Astral Spirits)

Rob Frye of the Bitchin’ Bajas offers up Exoplanet, his first album as a leader. On it, he plays woodwinds and synths, and is joined by Cooper Crain on organ, Daniel Quinlivan on electronics and Wurlitzer, Ben Lamar Gay on cornet, and Tommaso Moretti and Quin Kirchner on drums. Macie Stewart, Nick Ciontea, and Edbrass Brasil make contributions on violins, synths, and woodwinds and voice, respectively. Frye leads this Chicago-based outfit through eight spacey, creative jazz tracks.

Exoplanet is a heady mixture of new and old, composition and improv, and the catchy and the discordant. There is a retro vibe with the winds, synth, and Wurlitzer, but the album never feels dated. Instead, layers of keyboards and the pair of drummers provide thick, dense textures. Sequenced runs and funky drumming take fore on multiple tracks, while others (Innercomos and XC22182 are examples) are atmospheric and unstructured explorations. While none of these pieces are longer than seven minutes, they cover a lot of ground, and the album can be listened to as a cohesive whole. Highly recommended to fans of “outside” improv that is not quite free.

Exoplanet will be out April 23 on Astral Spirits, with preorders available via Bandcamp on February 5.