Review: “Planets” by Stratøs

Written by Joana Meurkens

Stratøs’ debut album brings us into the colorful and vast musical mind of the Michigan based composer, saxophonist and producer. Produced entirely by himself, the record is a clear labor of love, with a variety of collaborators and features elevating the record to new dimensions. Living in the realm of modern jazz, the album uses a mix of genres to take the listener on a celestial journey.

The album feels like a love story to the vast universe that we are only now  discovering. With each song dedicated to a planet, the various musical styles reflect the unique characteristics of each of them. With Earth (featuring Santino Jones),  he fuses rap with questions of morality and the tribulations of our home planet. Venus (featuring Alex Mansour) offers a romantic lush, giving way to something straight out of a romantic film score. Mars (featuring David Binney), like the planet, is aggressive and harsh, a song that would make the God of War himself proud.  In this track, Stratøs pays homage to Gustav Holst, the 20th century composer known for his seven-movement piece, “The Planets”, by taking the melody of “Mars, The Bringer of War” and transforming it into a thought provoking heavy metal piece, showing the audience that yes, you can blend the two to build a story of rage and beautiful chaos. Saturn offers a childlike curiosity, with a beautiful guitar opening and strong bass throughout that brings the listener into a space safe for exploration and free flirtation. 

The entire album is a work of art, and undoubtedly sets Stratøs as a force to be reckoned with. This record shows that jazz can be a million things, not just the straight ahead standards that we grew up on, but above all else a vessel to tell stories and express who we are and who we aspire to be. 

Listen to Planets here

Michigan native Stratøs is a saxophonist, composer, producer, and film photographer whose presence in the modern jazz scene is rapidly growing. His improvisational style is rooted heavily in the subtle melodicism of the cool jazz tradition and extends to the bold, complex nature of the electronic jazz scene. His compositions explore a combination of elements between jazz and other styles such as hip-hop, metal, electronica and classical. Stratøs is the three-time winner of the Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award from 2019-2021. Additionally, he was awarded the ASCAP Foundation’s Johnny Mandel Prize as well as being selected as a National Sawdust New Works Commission Contest winner. The latter granted the composer the opportunity to write for the world renowned JACK Quartet.

In 2017, Stratøs began working with indie rock/R&B artist Charlie Burg. The saxophonist is featured on several of Burg’s works such as Intentions and Lancaster Nights.Stratøs’ latest project, Planets, is a full length album entirely produced by the saxophonist which features the likes of Alekos Syropoulos (Mac Miller, Anderson .Paak, Vulfpeck), 2019 JUNO award nominee Andrew Rathbun, John Hébert (Fred Hersch, Maria Schneider), and renowned saxophonist/composer/producer David Binney (Donny McCaslin, Knower). The album is the amalgamation of the producer’s diverse musical identities. Reaching from the visceral, distorted sounds and grooves of the death metal world to the serene soundscapes akin to Hayao Miyazaki film scores, Planets seeks to connect a narrative throughline between these juxtaposing elements.

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