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a burning question about AKSEL RØED'S OTHER ASPECTS, DATADYR and SOFT FFOG

What is your first question when you're listening to a piece or whole album of music for the first time? Yes, exactly! That's everyone's first question, right? Still clueless? What's wrong with you? Ok, so here's the correct answer:

Is it Jazz?

This is a review special about the first three releases on the young Karisma Records sub-label Is It Jazz? Records.

SOFT FFOG - Soft Ffog (CD) (2022)

Soft Ffog is a quartet, whose members have all been - and are still - active in several other groups. Unfortunately I'm not familiar with those bands (yet), except for keyboarder Lien Bjerkan's Wizrd, whose Jazz Rock frenzy "Seasons" I've reviewed over on, but given the reputation of the Norwegian scene I will go out on a limb and say that none of them plays on lackluster level.
Soft Ffog started as a commissioned project for Kongsberg Jazzfestival 2016 and played a couple of live shows every now and then, until in 2020 band leader and guitarist Tom Hasslan (Krokofant) decided that it was time to finally record an album. The self-titled debut is also the first release of the new label. But even though the group had started in a Jazz context...

Is it Jazz?

The answer is that maybe it was supposed to be Jazz, but then it accidentally became Progressive Rock. Or it was actually meant to be Rock in the first place, but somehow turned into Jazz.

There's obviously some kinship with the aforementioned Wizrd, who themselves confidently enjoy the proximity to artists like Hedvid Mollestad, Kanaan, Motorpsycho, Seven Impale and so many more related fellow Norwegian genre fusionists. The main difference is that Soft Ffog is a purely instrumental band. Expertly juggling Return To Forever, King CrimsonDeep Purple and John MacLaughlin with a lot of emphasis on the power of the jam Soft Ffog make these three-quarters of an hour fly by fast.
This album doesn't try to do something radically new and innovative, yet instead concentrates on the energy and quality of its four tracks between Jazz, Prog and Hard Rock (the latter most forcefully emerging during the final piece "Dhalsim"). These guys love this stuff and it shows and carries over to the listener. This is just a joyful experience!

It's Jazz. But it's also - and probably even a bit more - Rock.

DATADYR - Woolgathering (2022)

Datadyr are a trio from Bergen and anything else I could tell you about them would immediately spoil the answer to the central question:

Is it Jazz?

Ok, the band was formed by Jazz students and I'll say it three times for each member on guitar, drums and bass: Yes, this is Jazz. This is Jazz. This is Jazz!

Even though piano or saxophone would still be a more apparant choice of lead in a Jazz trio than a guitar, Datadyr never give you any reason to doubt their jazziness. Recorded together in one room with as little overdubs as possible this album feels like a very immediate exposure, as if you've set up a chair in the middle of their jamming space.
The guitar reminds me a lot of what you'd hear in the various projects of Causa Sui and other members and friends of the El Paraiso Records family, while the upright bass as rhythmic foundation very firmly roots the music in tradional Jazz spectrum. The drums also lean more to the "old school" approach, but sometimes get convinced by the six strings to do subtle forays into Blues and Rock territory.

In the middle, right after the title track, "Woolgathering" doubles down on being Jazz by adding a tasty horn section to "Daybreaking", which later returns in the funky boogie of the band's theme song "Datadyr".

If you somehow missed the memo that Jazz is still alive and kicking and young talents won't stop entering its playing field - this one's for you! Great stuff.

AKSEL RØED'S OTHER ASPECTS - Do You Dream In Colours? (2023)

I expect that by now you know how this review starts. First a very brief introduction to the artist: Aksel Røed is a prolific Norwegian saxophonist, who has now put together his own ensemble of eight players, which allows him to fast and flexibly move into any direction he desires.
Second of course the unavoidable question:

You gathered eight people
and noone came up with the idea
for a better cover artwork? Come on!

Is it Jazz?

Oh yes, this is big band maximalist, often very Free Jazz, just as people love (and of course hate) it. Lots of lots of stuff happening here, and most of it including Sanders and Coleman worship.

No matter if you put on the short "Bergen Is The Prettiest In Blue" or the twelve+ minutes finale and highlight "When You Dream In Colours", which includes the obligatory band leader solo performance - all tunes here will infuse you with indeed colourful, vibrant Jazz club energy.

Nothing hinders you to listen to this back to back with the 1960's classics, The production is close, authentic and clear, no messing around.
Simply put: "Do You Dream In Colours?" is flawless. Except for that undeservingly poorly designed cover that is. With that title as a guideline you should have done better.

Is there more of that Jazz?

As we speak Datadyr have already released a follow up EP with material from the same recording sessions as their album, but a significantly different sound, as the four pieces on "Keymaster" are centered a lot more around moody Americana and light-hearted Latin vibes in the title track and the very smooth "Free Folk". Go listen to it here:

Beyond that there's an album from the experimental duo Leagus coming towards the end of April. Judging from the first promo track that's one going to be a quite different, but very exciting release. No doubt, Is It Jazz? Records is truly a label to keep your eyes and ears on!


cassette craze chronicles XXIV feat. CLARA ENGEL, CRAWL, HAUNTER and IVAN THE TOLERABLE

Oh boy! With this new bunch I've reached the point, where I should make a decision soon: Buy a second new rack for tapes or just spread my cassettes into every other niche and board in the room?

What did you say? Buy less cassettes? Come on, it's not that much of an addiction! And seriously, who could blame me for not resisting this noble bouquet of albums?

IVAN THE TOLERABLE - Black Water/Brown Earth (2023)

Musically totally unrelated the Ska/Polka/Rock party band Russkaja just called it quits, because they understandably couldn't stand performing with their happy Russian image in the face of the war against Ukraine. Of course I mention this, because the moniker Ivan The Tolerable surely strikes some extra attention in today's climate.
Luckily the music of prolific multi-instrumentalist Oli Hefernan moves within completely different parameters, which don't include any Russian puns or mannerisms, yet instead couldn't voice a more primal and timeless message of universal inner and outer peace. Nothing to feel uncomfortable about now.

This sprawling album, on which Hefernan (bass, guitar and keys) forms a trio with Elsa van der Linden (wind instruments) and drummer Mees Siderius, speaks the language of gorgeously escapist Psychedelic Jazz. The smooth dreaminess of this album is achieved by a multitude of warm intermingling sources. The mixtures of synths, mellotron, saxophone, vibraphone and more on top is just as much key to its effect as the dynamic groundwork of the rhythm section or the natural ambience added via field recordings.

Listening to "Black Water/Brown Earth" conjures the easy playfulness of classic Latin Jazz and Fusion, the uplifting grandeur of Spiritual Jazz and the slightly different elemental esoteric spiritism of New Age Ambient groups like Tengger. Maybe some of its ideas could turn out corny in lesser hands, but what awaits you on these eleven tracks is just constant blissful perfection. If you need a recent reference of quality, I'd put this between the two "super groups" Djinn and London Odense Ensemble.
Yes, it's that good! An absolutely amazing, indeed extremely tolerable statement of modern Jazz. Love love love!

CLARA ENGEL - Their Invisible Hands (2022)

Ok, I just realized that I've used the wrong pronouns in my two previous reviews of singer/songwriter Clara Engel, so let me apologize for that, before we talk about the music here!
It really wasn't some kind of ideologic ignorance, but the sheer ignorance of simply not noticing back in 2021. (Admittedly if I had known, I would probably have preferred English for those write-ups too, because the German language hasn't found a way of being inclusive in a respectful, normalizing and non-clunky  way yet. But with right-wing a-holes having occupied the "critical" side of public dialogue, that's an unnecessary dangerous discussion to have.)

Even though it's also an integral part of the work of artists like Clara Engel, music fortunately is a much easier language to grasp than language.
The golden thread of contemplating, questioning and longing in their delicate pieces - including pure instrumentals like "Ginko's Blues" or "Rowing Home Through A Sea Of Golden Leaves" - should speak to anyone who owns a soul.
Engel finds a way of expressing a very special kind of intimacy by the choice of instrumentation alone. Based on the seemingly small and home-made sounds of cigar box guitars, shruti box, melodica or "found percussion", these songs appear as very private insights.
While there still are parallels to the more minimalist material of artists as different as Chelsea Wolfe, Steve von Till, Einstürzende Neubauten or A Dead Forest Index, it often seems as if Clara's compositions seem to be much less written for the stage, but more like self-rewarding musings. Which somehow makes it especially precious to have the luck to listen to them.

Too much luck may not always be healthy though. As beautiful as the chapters of Clara's "one long continuous song" are each on their own, putting thirteen of those on one album, adding to a total length of about seventy minutes, is much by any standard, even if you consider that they don't all sound the same, but are actually quite distinct from each other.
The bottom line is that when I want to listen to "Their Invisible Hands" attentively, I'll most likely take it one side of the tape a time. It's very good, but also very much.  

CRAWL - Damned (2023)

Well, apart from a couple of similar letters this is quite a different one-person project. Its name may not be overly unique, but I'll be damned if it doesn't fit, because this music is really determined to push you to the ground, paralyse your body and cruelly drag you through the catacombs of desparation in the most obsequious way possible.

Crawl combines Dungeon Synth sounds with excessively horrendous Black Metal screeches and the dirtiest, most hateful Sludge Doom. It's oppressive and exhausting, but somehow also sacral, even with glimmers of beauty. Yet those subtle flashes only serve to show you what you will never deserve. Forget finding inspiration and motivation in music! These four tracks are ultimate hymns of self-loathing. If you party to Primitive Man you'll cry yourself to nightmarish half-sleep with Crawl.

And just to clearify before you read any of this wrong: This monolith is the greatest new Metal release I've heard so far in 2023!
On paper - judging from its ingredients and their intensity - this album should almost be a cartoonish caricature. Yet it never actually crosses that threshold, but always remains an undoubtly heightened, but still completely serious experience. Which makes "Damned" all the more terrifying in all the best ways.

HAUNTER - Discarnate Ails (2022)

And finally some epic Progressive Blackened Death Metal! Even if of all kinds of music I exclusively listened to Death Metal alone, the current renaissance wave would probably feed me with enough quality food to never starve. The Texans Haunter are yet another outstanding example of the many great diverse things you can do within the genre's framework.

Even though this release is a little bit short [insert "EP or album?" argument here], its three tracks all feel huge, not only in size, but also in intensity, heaviness, atmosphere and creativity. Lots of twists, turns and tempo shifts, and each and every of the countless parts is a killer. "Discarnate Ails" is just doing everything right. It's an all-around banger!

I especially love the band's own take on spiraling dissonant Virus / Blut Aus Nord style guitar riffs and the various different extreme vocals, which all have in common that they fucking slay.

You're probably already noticing it: Haunter would give me a very hard time if I wanted to write a longer and more detailed review about them. Of course they provide enough material for one of those - but honestly I just want to bathe in this awesome Death Metal bliss and enjoy it without any need of further dissection.

Bad enough that I missed Haunter last year, when they were also touring Europe for the first time; but I'm glad that I at least at last discovered them now via looking for another release to order from Profound Lore alongside the Crawl tape. This is unspoiled modern Death Metal in perfection.


KING DUDE - Songs of the 1940s - vol. 1 & 2

2023 will be the year in which T.J. Cowill bids his Dark Americana alter ego King Dude goodbye. Admittedly I've slept a little on his recent releases after 2016's "Sex" - with the exception of last year's collaborative Psychedelic Western album with Der Blutharsch And The Infinite Church Of The Leading Hand. (R.I.P. Albin Julius!)

Taking his project full circle, he also released two digital EP with his most Country recordings ever, featuring his takes on several Great American Songbook classics, which were either written or popularly interpreted during the 1940's. Still counting as an EP this new double seven inch compiles both of them as a beautiful physical release.

KING DUDE - Songs of the 1940s - vol. 1 & 2 (2 x 7" EP) (2023)

The easiest go-to-definition of King Dude has always been an occult twist on Johnny Cash mixed with influences from Neofolk, Darkwave, Gospel and Rockabilly.
These eight songs however are a little bit easier to describe, because they are all pure traditional American Folk and Country and mostly even played in lone cowboy with a guitar by the fire style. But the King wouldn't be the Dude without adding touches beyond his sonorous voice to make these tunes his own.
Be it the pedal steel guitar on "Drivin' Nails In My Coffin" or the whole productions of "Oh Death" and "Pistol Packin Mama" being drenched in eerily cavernous echo or the addition of spooky piano or organ here and there; there's no doubt who you're listening to, even though all of these songs have been covered a thousand times before.

Ok, since I seldom ever dip my feet into this world, I've personally neither been overfed with Cole Carter nor Al Dexter or Hank Williams so far. Which was on purpose, no doubt. The only song of which I have a particular knowledge beyong having heard that somewhere sometime is Stan Jones' "Riders In The Sky". I not only love Youn Sun Nah's spectacular Jazz version, but actually performed it myself as part of a family band - either on my grandparents' (R.I.P.) iron wedding anniversary or my grandfather's 90th birthday. (Those two instances were close to each other, so I confuse the performances.)

Especially given my longtime reservations towards the genre, I find myself much more entertained by this than I would have expected. Only the last track "I Saw The Light" even in this form is still a bit too preachy and corny for me.

All in all however this EP is a great song collection, and its presentation by this Raubbau release is very coherent, starting with using the 7" format, given that the material comes from an era, in which not long playing records, but singles were the norm. The choice of historic images printed on the brown cardboard of both the gatefold and the outer slipcase is moody, and the embossed logo - also on both - is the icing on the cake.
There were two flaws with my copy I have to warn you about: 1. The holes were both too small for my player and needed a bit of widening with a ballpoint pen. 2. The needle has to be put on very carefully, otherwise you might risk it drifting off to the side!

"Songs of the 1940s - vol. 1 & 2" will be officially released on February 23rd.


WORM - Bluenothing

It's mid February and I guess we're entering the space where I won't review every single release from last year which finds its way into my collection any more. This EP however still worms its way into my blog already by its quite strange yet intriguing nature alone. 

WORM - Bluenothing (Cyan Bone Galaxy 12" vinyl EP) (2022)

In short Worm play Blackened Funeral Doom - but there are certain twists, starting with the discrepancy in their presentation. There aren't many varieties of Metal more grave and serious than Funeral Doom and musically that doesn't change by mixing it with mystical Black Metal elements, but the Floridian trio has also adopted a very campy warriors from the ice castle image including the monikers Phantom Slaughter, Wroth Septentrion and Nihilisitic Manifesto. At first I really wasn't sure what to make of this.

But then it dawned to me that similar like with the fantasy and comic elements of Khemmis, their former label mates on 20 Buck Spin, you're probably just meant to shut your doubts off and enjoy the music and everything around it for what it is. And it is a lot!

Because between the aforementioned two pillars Worm not only walk through the valley of Death Metal, but also integrate a - for this constellation - uncommonly large amount of Progressive Metal into their sound. There's also a huge spotlight onto the guitar solos, which always serve the compositions, yet strike several shredding hero poses while doing so.

Their melodies juxtapose the sinister gloomy depths with a bright and epic clarity, elevating Worm to that state which constantly urges you to spread your arms wide open to properly take in all the grandiosity. Only after around twenty-six minutes you'll probably change from mighty Metal worship mode to a confused shrug, as "Bluenothing" ends way to soon, leaving you floating in the emptiness, yearning for more. What a confident huge sound! Brilliant.

The Cyan Bone Galaxy LP is nice and blue, sounds good and is accompanied by an appropriately large poster.


El Paraiso Double Jamsensation: LONDON ODENSE ENSEMBLE - Jaiyede Sessions Volume 2 / EDENA GARDENS - Edena Gardens

I didn't receive them in one package for once, but it's time to finally talk about two recent releases of everyone's favorite Scandinavian Psych label again!

LONDON ODENSE ENSEMBLE - Jaiyede Sessions Volume 2 (LP) (2023)

No matter if you think there's an improvement compared to "Volume 1" or if you like this second part less than its predecessor - you would always be technically wrong to talk about any kind of evolution here, since both albums were actually distilled from the very same gathering in Denmark. So the difference between these two releases isn't one of developments over time, but just one of selection from the manifold material, which the Causa Sui members and friends assembled during the jams on their get-together.

Hippie-Prog/Psych-Rock meets Latin-Jazz-Fusion meets analogue Electro-sprinkles in a downright intoxicating, timeless Miles, Coltrane and Hancock mass for the gods.
That's what I said about the first album with the line-up of Martin Rude and Jonas Munk (guitars), Jakob Skøtt (drums), Tamar Osborn (wind instruments) and Al MacSween (keyboards) - so naturally my expectations for this new one were very high. On the other hand it was kind of easy for the London Odense Ensemble to meet them, since they only needed to deliver "more of the same", right? And did they do that? Well... yes and no.

The tracks on "Jaiyede Sessions Volume 2" are shorter, but there are a couple more. Most of this stuff seems to be more layered and fleshed out, but at the same time also often feels airier and lighter, an effect which is mostly caused by the choice of synth sounds and Osborn favouring the dreamy flute over her saxophone.
That doesn't mean these sessions don't get dirty from time to time, be it with funky beats and gnarly bass fuzz or free jazz escapades like in "Flux". But all in all there is certainly a magical feathery breeze caressing the 1970's Fusion sound of this record.

It's spectacular! And no matter if you are familiar with the players and their previous album or if you're just fond of jams which transport you from groovy rock roots to Jazz flute heights - you will enjoy this!

EDENA GARDENS - Edena Gardens (LP) (2022)

Given that it's yet another meeting of Martin Rude and Jakøb Skott, this trio, which also includes El Paraiso alumnus and Papir guitarist Nicklas Sørensen, sounds surprisingly different, not only compared to the London Odense Ensemble, yet also to the predecessing Martin Rude & Jakob Skøtt Duo and Rude Skøtt Osborn Trio releases.

"Edena Gardens" takes the most sun-drenched ideas of Causa Sui and slowly drags them through the Californian desert sand. This is the meeting point of "Szabodelico" and Dylan Carlson's Earth. Of course these guys can't help themselves and get very playful and overflowing at times, but the general vibe of this album is grave and introverted - yet in a sincere captivating way, which reflects beautifully back onto the surface. Especially "Aether" and "Hidebound", the mesmerizingly slow openers of each side talk a language of eloquent simplicity, which is just immediately engaging.
Taking the whole combined body of work under these three Psychedelic jam masters into account (or at least the portion of it which I know), Edena Gardens stand out as one of their most distinct projects.

My only miniature bother with this album is the at this point a little bit overused wordplay in the song title "Now Here Nowhere", which otherwise is a completely cool tune. But I guess if not already everything else, the upbeat Folk and cowboy twang finale of "An T-Eilean Dubh" makes up for that.

Can't wait to hear and see what this trio will bring onto the stage at Esbjerg Fuzztival in May!


WORMROT und WOJCZECH live im Hafenklang, Hamburg (07. Februar 2023)

*Rrrratsch* war's geschehen. Die Hose arschseits komplett aufgerissen. Zum Glück trug ich noch eine lange Elli drunter. Und das einst wie angegossen sitzende Ding war eh seit zwei Jahren viel zu groß. Und es geschah noch am Dienstag Nachmittag zu Hause.
Hätte es sich allerdings ein paar Stunden später in der Öffentlichkeit des Hafenklangs zugetragen, wäre dies vermutlich auch das am wenigsten peinliche Umfeld für diese wardrobe malfunction gewesen. Denn Grindcore in der Punkbude - das kann man wohl ohne irgendwem zu nahe zu treten ganz subjektiv festhalten - ist nicht das Milieu, in dem Anzug, Lackschuhe und Stock im Arsch perfekt sitzen müssen.

Ich wundere mich überhaupt ein wenig, dass ich so ewig nicht auf einem Grindcorekonzert gewesen bin. Schließlich ist die zusammen mit Jazzcore mit Abstand geilste "Core"-Musikrichtung für mich traditionell eine ähnlich Komfortzone wie Death Metal, auch wenn ich der Richtung niemals exzessiv gesammelt haben. Es ist halt in erster Linie ein Liveding.


Wojczech aus Rostock, die den Quatsch schon seit weit über zwanzig Jahren machen, zeigten dann auch gleich, was an dem Scheiß so geil ist. Blasts, die von ranzigen Slams unterbrochen werden, die von kurzen Gitarrenhexpassagen, die von Blasts, die von... usw. unterbrochen werden, Frontbrüller und Bassist im traditionellen Hust- und Motzduett. Man beeindruckt mit sportlicher leistung, nimmt sich dabei aber nicht zu ernst. Letztendlich ist Grindcore vor allem Partymusik, nur halt für normale Leute.


Die Ostseeküstler waren zwar ganz und gar nicht von schlechten Eltern, doch Wormrot aus Singapur sind nicht nur hochleistungsenergetisch, sondern auch kreativ nochmal auf einer ganz anderen Ebene unterwegs. Das ist nach dem Meisterwerk "Hiss" jetzt an sich auch keine Überraschung, allerdings muss man schon festhalten, dass die Band nach dem Ausstieg des dort noch vertretenen Sängers Arif die "Season of Violence"-Tour mit Handicap angetreten ist.

Tatsächlich traten sie nur mit Gitarre, Drums und Gastsänger Gabriel Dubko von Implore auf, was gerade im Vergleich zum Album mit all seinen Extras, Geigen und hastenichtgesehen natürlich einen minimalistischeren Ansatz diktierte. Das Wörtchen "nur" kann man aus diesem Satz allerdings getrost streichen, denn allein das laute lichtgeschwindigkeitsüberschreitend irrwitzige Trommelinferno, welches Schießbudenblitz Vijesh  mit lässigem Grinsen im Gesicht entfachte, ersetzte im Grunde schon mindestens zwei normalsterbliche Leute. Und die Schläger Schlager Hits vom Album waren immer noch klar wiederzuerkennen.

Saitenquäler Rasyid jagte sein ultrabrutales Gefrickel durch mehrere Amps und Boxen, und der Ersatzfronter machte einen amtlichen Brüll- und Animationsjob, wobei mir persönlich nun natürlich der Vergleich zum Original fehlt. Das Publikum jedenfalls bedankte sich fürs Gebotene mit mehr als wohlwollender Stimmung und wildem Abriss im Beklopptenpit.

Was soll ich noch groß sagen? When Talking Fails, It's Time For Violence. Und so viel Spaß an hemmungsloser Gewalt wie beim Ausbruch von Wormrot hat man nicht alle Tage. Unfassbar!

Zum Finale pfefferte Dubko der ersten Reihe noch einen überraschend harten Splash Wasser ins Gesicht. Da hätte ich vor Schreck doch fast die Brille verlieren und mein Höschen zerreißen können.

Geiler Grind-Abend in einem für einen postpandemischen Dienstag ganz schön gerappelt vollen Hafenklang.