Finally, the wait is over. Three years after the awe-inspiring double release of Burning the Hard City and Suspension and Displacement, America's premier progressive ensemble have returned, but have undergone a major facelift. Drummer Chuck Oken, Jr. has bailed out, and before that word was out of lead guitarist Mike Henderson's departure. Although Mike has returned to guest on this effort, Djam Karet are currently bassist Henry J. Osborne and guitarist Gayle Ellett. The premise of Collaborator is this: using tidbits of incomplete musical fragments created independently by friends of the band and recorded onto DAT, Djam Karet would take those bits and finish them off with their own unique touches. These collaborators include Marc Anderson, Kit Watkins, Jeff Greinke, Steve Roach, Walter Holland, Loren Nerell, and Carl Weingarten.
With a cast like that, it shouldn't be surprising that this album would further explore the more ambient side of the band, but rest assured this album is a far cry from a rehash of the ground already covered on the amazing and revolutionary Suspension and Displacement. Where that album used many acoustic guitars and electric guitar loops and patterns, this new release is void of either of those. There are more keyboards than ever before (again no surprise when you consider the musicians involved) and more emphasis on percussive backdrops. Holland's bright sequence which opens the album and Greinke's delicate piano chords which close it are both timbres previously unfamiliar to the Djam Karet lexicon. The first two tracks are deceptive in their optimism and brightness, since the rest of the album is remarkably dark and haunting.
Djam Karet continue to pioneer the electronic genre, with an unparalleled understanding of the timbral complexity required to make music of this nature succeed. And succeed they do, on a grand scale. This album strikes a deep nerve, and is emotionally stirring: the mark of master craftsmen. This is highly recommended, and undoubtedly one of the year's best efforts.
(Originally published in Expose #5, p. 16, Edited for Gnosis 8/11/02)
|Mike Prete||6-August-2001||The Ritual Continues|
The Ritual Continues showcases the sound that would come to define Djam Karet. The majority of the songs here were taken from a 1987 live performance at Pitzer College in Claremont CA. "Tangerine Rabbit Jam" and "Night Scenes" were recorded by Happy Cancer, the precursor to DK, in 1982. The material presented here shows the budding Djam Karet working with the various sounds and ideas that would come to define their later work, from blistering guitar solos to spacey electronics to powerful improvisation. This is another set of great instrumental progressive rock played by some very skilled musicians.
"Shamen's Descent" kicks things off with an atmospheric keyboard opening which slowly builds up, adding flowing guitar solos over a strong rhythmic background in the typical DK vein. "Technology And Industry" is a very crimson like number with excellent bass work from Henry Osborne. The title track shows the band's 'world music' influence with the incorporation of ethnic percussion. "Revisiting A Quiet Place..." reminds me of the track "The Black Line" from Still No Commercial Potential, starting with the sound effects of a bubbling stream and chirping birds which is added to by flute like keyboards and light cymbals until around 10 min where the serenity is broken by jackhammers and scorching guitar.
The Ritual Continues is a very strong album that shows how the
band's sound progressed over time, yet was pretty well defined from the
beginning. Fans of their later work such as Burning The Hard City or
The Devouring should enjoy this one too.
|Mike Prete||6-August-2001||Burning the Hard City|
Burning The Hard City is classic instrumental progressive rock that is angry, powerful and relentless in its pursuit of rhythmic intensity and passionate soloing" - Taken from the liner notes. I don't think I could have come up with a better way of describing this album, so I'll let the band do it for me. The music here is quite sinister at times with a pulsating rhythm section laying the foundation for fiery guitar work reminiscent of mid-70s Crimson but with a much more acute sense of fluidity.
The majority of the compositions tend to be drawn out over almost ten minutes, and sometimes the repetitive themes can, well, repeat themselves too much. This is apparent especially on "Province 19" which is one of the more aggressive and harsh pieces and seems to be overwhelmingly so during its eight minutes. Other times the repetitive nature lends itself to enhancing the powerful atmosphere in a similar way to the Zeuhl subgenre.
"Feast Of Ashes" and "Ten Days To The Sand" slightly break up the omnipresent guitar pyrotechnics adding another dimension with the more prominent role of keyboards and synths. The sound is much more atmospheric and the Gilmour-esque guitar leads help to move the songs along greatly. "Grooming The Psychosis" makes use of both aforementioned styles, mixing haunting electronics with heavy and intense playing all around, especially the killer bass. It's one of my favorite pieces on the album along with the title track which evokes much of the same mood.
An excellent release showcasing the instrumental prowess of the band.
Although it retains a similar aggressive feel for most of the album, there
is plenty of variation between songs and with a few exceptions, really keeps
me thoroughly interested for the entire album. In fact, this is one of the
few albums over 50 min that I can actually listen to in one sitting and not
|Mike Prete||6-August-2001||The Devouring|
The Devouring is considered by many to be one of the best prog albums released in the 90s, and I would be hard pressed to find some reasons to disagree with that. Djam Karet have taken their trademark sound of blistering guitar solos, atmospheric passages, and instrumental prowess and added old school prog rock keyboards: not one, but two mellotrons, analog synths and organ. This hybridization brings a fresh new slant to their already impressive sound. Their familiar style from previous releases is still strong here, and the edginess of before is still strong. Gayle Ellett's guitars dominate the sound here, from soaring and atmospheric to blazing and raw, with Mike Henderson making a guest appearance on four tracks. Henry Osborne's monster bass playing is strong as always as is Chuck Oken's drumming. Shifting tempos, signatures and passages abound, not staying in one place for too long.
"Night Of The Mexican Goat Sucker" opens the album in prime fashion, an exciting combination of driving riffs, frenzied keyboards and thunderous rhythms that propel the piece foreword. "Forbidden By Rule" and "Lost, But Not Forgotten" make nice use of mellotron and other keyboards as eerie backing to these rather dark pieces. "Lights Over Roswell" is the culmination of these first few pieces, starting with an atmospheric intro, leading to an assault of guitars and keyboards, a killer bass line and is the one track on the album to feature violin, which adds to the rhythmic power of the piece. For the most part, the rest of the songs on the album are more somber and atmospheric, and showcase the ambient side of the band.
Piecing together what was a rather schizophrenic past, Djam Karet have
fused their sound on The Devouring to make an excellent whole. For
the uninitiated, this is the place to start, and for previous fans of the
band, you must already have this.
"This album was created as a collaborative effort between Djam Karet and some of our friends and fellow musicians. These seven collaborators, working in their own private recording studios around the country, composed, performed, and recorded incomplete musical fragments onto digital audio tape [DAT], which they then sent to us through the mail. Djam Karet then independently added more sounds and textures on top of these fragments, finishing off the pieces, and creating the final versions found here on this compact disc". Now that you know the story behind the album, on to the music...
As can be expected by glancing at the names of just a few of the guests, including Kit Watkins and Steve Roach, this affair is concentrated on the more ambient and spacey side of Djam Karet. With the majority of the collaborators contributing keyboards and percussion, it is up to Djam Karet to alter and add to these sounds in an interesting way, which they do with the aid of their typical instruments, as well as some rather atypical ones such as: baby toys, ocean drums, Tibetan glass crucibles, electronic door alarms and even Gayle Ellett on lawn. The work here can range from eerie soundscapes to desolate ambient planes.
I can't say that I'm much of a fan of ambient work (not that I've heard all that much), so it's no surprise that the tracks I find most appealing are the ones that have more going on in them. "Solar Flare" has some great keyboard work, while "Foreign Lesion" has some very interesting percussion work going on. "Cliff Spirits" slowly builds up to a choral dominated piece with pulsating keyboard work weaving it's way through the layers of male and female vocals and is very reminiscent of Tangerine Dream circa Phaedra. "Salt Road" brings you on a trip with a desert caravan. There are other pieces like "The Day After" and "Moorings" that just don't have enough development to keep my interest.
The nature of this album leads to the fact that not everything here will
fit together perfectly. Having two artists work on the same piece
independently of each other will undoubtedly lead to some areas that aren't
as cohesive as they could have been. Nonetheless, DK has done a commendable
job of working with different influences to create a varied and interesting
piece of work. For those who are accustomed to the intense sound of the band
on releases such as Burning The Hard City, or The Devouring,
this might not be what you're looking for.
|Mike Prete||6-August-2001||Still No Commercial Potential|
I can't say that I'm usually a fan of improvised music. I can handle a little improvised jam or something within the structure of a song, but for the most part improvs tend to build up too slow or just go nowhere at all. But for the most part, that is not the case when I listen to this album. Still No Commercial Potential was, according to the liner notes, recorded over two afternoons in the band's studio, using just one microphone and not a single overdub. Considering this, the sound quality is amazing. The music is much more atmospheric and low key compared to Burning The Hard City.
The songs tend to be an amalgamation of atmospheric keyboards and the trademark guitar solos the band is known for. Some of the tracks have an ambient feel to them for parts where the keys dominate. The most successful tracks create an equal balance between both parties and are much more interesting, the best examples being "No Vacancy At The Hotel Of Noise" and "Night, But No Darkness". These tracks combine the best of the bands great complex, frenetic playing and the atmospheric electronic side. As to be expected with a totally improvisational album, there are points where the music tends to stagnate and not go anywhere. A good example of this is in one of the most interesting songs on the album, "The Black Line". The first four minutes are comprised of sound effects and a bit of didgerioo. The droning of frogs and crickets is only rarely broken by the occasional percussion flourish or air raid siren for the first five minutes of the song, when the rest of the band starts to join in. I'm very eurocentric in my musical tastes, and this is one of the few 'ethnic' sounding things that I enjoy, with the second half of the song being comprised of interesting rhythm patterns and occasional guitar flourishes.
"Strange Wine From A Twisted Fruit" is the 28 minute closer of the album, and is just not cohesive enough to keep my attention all the way through. There are some amazing moments, but as with the improvised nature, it takes a while to build to them.
An interesting supplement to the band's discography, "Evolving from the
complex primordial soup, these pieces of music live in a unique world at the
cusp of chaos and order much like life itself. Still No Commercial
Potential is a reflection of this fundamental aspect of our musical
|Peter Thelen||24-Feb-2001||The Ritual Continues|
Imagine a sound with the force and power of mid-period King Crimson, the fluidity and spaciness of Pink Floyd, and the percussive power of Peter Gabriel's Security. Throw into that mix a generous helping of the new Industrial Rock with plenty of improvisation, and you have the sound of Djam Karet: progressive, snarly, full of fire, and 100% instrumental. One of the most welcome reissues of the year is this, their 1987 classic, heretofore only available on cassette (although it did appear briefly on LP in Brazil). This showcases the band's live show at that period in time, and successfully integrates the wide diversity in their material, from the harder rocking numbers like "Technology & Industry", to the more ethereal spacy cuts like "The Black River". At times both ends of the spectrum fuse perfectly, exemplified by the outstanding title track or "Shaman's Descent". One of the more ethnic/industrial oriented tracks from the original cassette (A City Of Two Tales) does not appear here, but instead has been replaced by two tracks from their 1982 cassette Kafka's Breakfast, and "A Quiet Place" has been re-recorded, extended, and re-titled Falling Down 1993. For anyone not yet familiar with DK, this is as good a place as any to start.
(Originally published in Exposť #1, p. 10-11, Edited for Gnosis 1/19/01)
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