It’s a truism that free jazz and all manner of improv is best appreciate live, rather than on record, as it is when in front of an audience that a quartet such as Akode really come into their own. North And South therefore comes from that other great tradition of such music by being an oustanding record of one such outing, captured at Café OTO in London in 2014.
Kim Johannesen (guitar), Ola Hoyer (bass) and drummer Dag Erik Knedal Andersen are joined by Alan Wilkinson on saxophone, and what a storm they set about whipping up across the two sessions that make up North And South. Longest at nearly forty minutes is “The Almond Rocks”, and the dynamics on display here are often entirely breathtaking – though evidently not so much that Alan allows much respite from his devilish circular breathing regime. Actually, that’s not quite true; Wilkinson is a good (actually, great) improviser, and polite musicians know when to take a (literal) breath and sit back to listen rather than play.Given Alan’s longstanding and deserved reputation as one of the quintessential sax players on the scene (and of course organising light behind and inveterate participant in north London’s equally long-running flimflam night in Stoke Newington), it might be forgiveable to look upon Akode as him plus a trio of young Norwegians acting as his backing band; but that’s not how it should work, and that’s not how North And South is. Each meander into the intricacies of a shuffling stutter on the drumkit, a rattle of percussion here, a sking of guitar there and the underpinning thrum of the bass demonstrates their avid capabilities in cahoots with Mr Wilkinson, who is equally likely to be found leading the charge as slipping back below the threshold to enjoy the frenzy let loose by what could in other hands be the trad trio of guitar, bass and drums let rip.
When the spasming frenzy really gets into its most outrageous — sometimes even scarily so — sweeps, runs and violent shudderings make it almost entirely difficult to determine what instrument is making what sound, and, quite frankly, to care for that matter; and Akode become one super-organism that sunders all before it. Then they feint and cavort, the quartet playfully circling like they’re sizing each other up before the next round of kittenish rough and tumble. When that comes, is does so in a slowed gathering of recuperative flickers and wheezes that seem to fade, returns in squarps and frackles, normal words having become inadequate to describe some of the thrumulous tribbling and effervescent power-honking that concludes the first section with one more humongous round of groupthink parpelling.If that seems like so much Joycean wordplay, just image what Akode do on stage; they make the architecture of Café OTO dance to their particular dialect(ic) of a specific yet endlessly malleable musical language. “Ola’s Bin Lid” proffers a quarter hour of jaunty expectation, tautly-held restraint and back-belted sussurus that starts off sounding like nothing so much as the complex mating ritual of a particularly demonstrative species of exotic bird. Here, motion is held initially in suspense, and as Alan follows where the rest of the trio leads, the complexities abound into something more akin to a multi-dimensional game of chess, played out out in layers that extend in more than conventionally-expected directions.
As the title indicates, Ola holds a prominent role in all the ensuing shenanigans, his bass expressive and abstracted at the same time, weaving a non-linear web for the patter of cymbals and drumsticks to flick and flare among the sprinkled stringbends and heaving saxophone upchucks. Woozy, blurred and bamboozling each other by turns, Akode seem determined leave the audience at home and in the venue bleary-eared and more than a little befuddled by just how things could come to this, so blissfully and bizarrely.