Typically, interstellar explorers navigate galactic parts unknown, but Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra, a space-minded troupe based in Berlin, make their forays into more familiar territories. Take Off!, the group’s debut, fluidly navigates a trajectory that takes the 20-piece orchestra through a variety of musical environs in an hour-long whirlwind of genre jumping and stylistic switcheroos. The squadron’s commander (and composer) Daniel Glatzel leads his loyal crew on a journey that touches on Philip Glass, Lawrence Welk, and plenty in between, but the ride is anything but bumpy. Take Off!, for all its back-and-forth, is a surprisingly smooth and earnest trip.
To catalog the musical styles utilized during the hour-long Take Off! would be a long and thankless task, but even a quick survey yields strains of orchestral jazz, film scores, TV themes, romantic and 20th Century classical music, to name a few. But unlike some other artists who make copious use of such stylistic hopscotch, Glatzel’s compositions don’t feel like referentiality for the sake of a conceptual bent or exhibition of cleverness. Instead, the orchestra’s hops, skips and jumps feel more natural, albeit within the context of an unpredictable music. Glatzel doesn’t often make use of breakneck twists and turns, meaning that some tracks settle comfortably into one sound or another for extended periods.
Take Off, therefore, isn’t an album for someone who couldn’t stomach its ingredients outside of the orchestra’s varied approach. Glatzel plays frequently with the tenets of classic large ensemble jazz, with his alterations to the sound minor enough for the final product to feel more like a contemporary homage than a more intellectual pursuit. The compositions’ inventiveness often comes on a larger scale, and the listener plunked down in the middle of the disc at random may listen for five minutes before sensing anything odd. The middle section of "Asteroids!," and its swinging sound, complete with the requisite harp and vibraphone, is presented largely without contemporary conceit, but it’s sandwiched between some of the disc’s most jagged, atonal and strikingly modern material. The sweet sway of strings in "Lava Lovers" feels a bit wobbly at first, but its only over the course of the entire track that things begin to feel downright drunk, leading into a crescendo that pulls the band back in line again. Take Off! can be quite amusing, even silly, but there’s few cheap thrills, and, here, that’s not a bad thing.
As an album, Take Off! exists in a somewhat troublesome space, often too unconventional to please those who enjoy the ingredients that serve as its base, but too straightforward an adaptation to fully capture the ears of the adventurous listener attuned to more hectic, showy amalgams of style and sound. The disc is rife with little delights, however, and if it’s not the biggest jaw-dropper on first listen, there’s something to Glatzel’s reconfigurations that moves beyond nostalgia or novelty into a new frontier that, at its best, is simply and intelligently fun.