Jazz isn’t the first soundtrack you’d necessarily think of while making your initial foray into Douglas Adams’ acclaimed sci-fi absurdist pentalogy of novels, of which “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was the flagship. But it’s already proven itself too cerebral and rococo for the mainstream, so why not? As a keyboardist, leader Mike “Rhino” Rihner has the chops to pull off his own vision, having studied under Ellis Marsalis and then disproved the old adage by teaching theory at just about every educational institution in town.
Merely adding the occasional Moogish lead and atmospheric backdrop, however, doesn’t get the music spacebound. It’s still just a funky fusion with lots of sax and piano breaks, mostly. “Trillian’s Theme” is, naturally, a love ballad, “Deep Space Blues” is fairly grounded in Earth changes, and “Vogon Poetry,” far from being the world’s third-worst song, is an appealing little breather with alien burblings in the background. Only the alternate-universe time signatures and blistering guitar storms of “Flying Through Space on the Heart of Gold” approach the cosmic. And the novel’s dry and existential wit is nowhere to be found, not even coming through the clarinet.
Confused? If you’ve never read the books or even seen the movie, you don’t need a backstory to appreciate this stuff: it doesn’t sound like the house band at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe as much as late-Seventies New York jazz with some pretensions. And if that sounds good to you, it’s back in print for the first time in nearly a decade.