Out There it certainly is, and if the beats major on hip hop origin, the music is given a completely free reign. Improvisation is welcomed but not given too much free rein, lest the record collapse on itself. Samples abound but don’t dominate, as there’s plenty of interest from the fifteen or so instruments the Heliocentrics use through the course of the record. And when you think that number does not include the strings or percussion, you’ll get an idea of the aural spectrum on offer.
Constantly changing, the music uses synthesized sound and sampling sparingly and to good effect, boosting the acoustic contributions, which have the electricity of live performance. A huge range of percussion adds to the earthy hip hop beats, meaning Arabic and Indian sounds are often implied against the more obviously Western bass.
Comparisons with Sa Ra and his flexible orchestra of space-jazz are inevitable, but what takes place here is more earthbound and easier to latch on to. That is, as long as you don’t try to put a generic label on it. A lot of this music becomes what you want it to be, but crucially it has rhythm, melody and vocal interest in abundance.
Leader Malcolm Catto keeps the octet hinged together, and his work with Madlib, DJ Shadow (the band guested on his last album) and Yesterdays New Quintet mean he’s well informed for the role.
Out There was conceived over a four year period, and it’s to the ensemble’s credit that it sounds fresh, organic and ideally structured, if rather long at just shy of seventy minutes. A progressive, embracing experience rather than a sectionalized listen, there is nonetheless usually a riff to latch on.
Distant Star offers a solid bass lick over which strange atmospherics occur, while Sirius B makes use of the enjoyable parpings of the baritone saxophone. Joyride, meanwhile, is just that, as a quicker rhythm and what sounds like Jake Ferguson’s Thai guitar make a play for the affections as the textures swirl around.
Yet singling out individual tracks is not the point of the album. Listening over the single spread of an hour proves a highly stimulating and often eye-opening journey; a chance to marvel at the sounds conjured up by Catto and his orchestra. It’s a ride best enjoyed in the small hours, where the Heliocentrics are Out There to maximum effect.