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Jaki Liebezeit & Holger Mertin – Aksak

Staubgold

Jaki Liebezeit & Holger Mertin - AksakConfusing record, that’s the synopsis. It’s got all the ingredients of a blinder — fully world-class players, uncommon mix of instruments, well recorded and mixed… but it’s lacking a certain something. That something being length.

There’s arguably a problem with Jaki Liebezeit‘s pedigreeTago Mago‘s one of my favourite records and, obviously, I’d really like to hear a version of that album with an hour-and-a-half mix of “Halleluwah”. It’s a shitty criticism but that’s where I am; I like to hear an idea developed over long periods of time. That doesn’t have to be a solo Carnatic classical percussion but it does seem a bit of a shame to have a drummer of Liebezeit’s calibre limited in the two to three minutes world.

And that’s disingenuous, really — there’s an enormous amount of development in really clipped spaces here. “Snarespur”, f’rinstance, sits around some relatively unchanging snare motifs, letting in the improv (or extemporisation, the album recording notes aren’t clear on playing methods) eke in, but by the time it’s shifted enough to be noticeable, it’s time for the next track. That’s fine a couple of times but it seems to be the order of the day with this record — set up the groove, fiddle about a bit, fade it out. Nothing’s clocking much more than five minutes and most is around the three-minute mark.

And that’s kind of frustrating. It’s pretty pronounced in places; those tracks which feature a fuller set of instruments — “Sägelatt”, second track in, has bass, modulationsscheiben, cymbals, tubesticks, framdrum, “world drum kit”, e-guitar, synthesizer, which is as full a group as the record has — kind of wallows around like a slightly more outré late new age music: not quite new age’s deathless content-less drivel, but it’s only really the off-pulse wash of cymbal and some nice firm ‘boom-boom-KA’ drums saving it from hippy swill.

Perhaps it’s less of a surprise then that this record works best in those moments when it really is working with the bare minimum – “Ahabarab” starts with a minimal (but complex, compound) tambourine rhythm accentuated by a pulse carried on spoons (obiviously); around the two minute mark a dholak joins in for the briefest of accentuations, a pause and then a exploration of a variation on the tambourine’s rhythm on the dholak. Then a fade out. This says as much about my ears as anything else, but the minimal instrumentation means I can listen to the quick, neat and clipped variations without needing to concentrate too much. So maybe I’m saying that it’s the sort of record that feels like it should be a long-haul one but is more like a study in clever, quick variations which is closer to being percussion-scholarly than it is a record I could hand-on-heart love.

The thing there is that I do quite like this record. I’ve been prevaricating from reviewing it for a variety of reasons (ranging from “I moved house” to “I’m a lazy motherfucker”), but I have been listening to it a couple of times a week for a couple of months at least now. It’s good, but it’s tantalising. It’s like a month of outstanding starters, never a main. Just one track clocking over seven minutes would just bring it all together for me. The closest we get is the transition from “Krook” to “Jackpool”, where the melodic (some sort of metallophone) percussion and bluesy guitar figures (courtesy of Josep Suchy) are mutated from the first to the latter into electronic variations on the same material, minus melodies. So in the transition from the first to the second we lose a couple of notes of melody and end up somewhere just shy of the sort of instrumentals breakcore would ache for. It’s nearly brilliant but even though it’s two tracks, it’s not quite there.

I hate writing reviews like this. It’s bollocks. Essentially, I’m saying “it’s a great record, except I don’t like it because they’ve gone out of their way to make it short”. And, of course, it’s parity will get it played on the radio, which’ll get it sold. So what I’m ultimately saying is that they need to start doing directors’ cuts of records, or something like that. Yeah. Anyway, yeah. Sorry gents. LONGER MIXES PLZ KTHXBAI.

-Kev Nickells-

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