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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Jooklo Danish Group - Mixture of Energies (Holiday Records, 2012) ****

By Greg McGreevy

Jooklo Danish Group is one of many incarnations featuring Italian musicians Virginia Genta and David Vanzan, otherwise known as the Jooklos. This LP is aptly released under this new moniker, as it includes two Danish musicians, Johns Lunds on baritone sax and Maria Bertel on amplified trombone. Genta and Vanzan typically approach albums as a duo, with Genta on the alto or tenor sax and Vanzan playing every kind of drum or percussion instrument he can find. From what I know, they are self-trained musicians whose output is more a force of power than it is mind-numbing exercises in theory or instrument virtuosity. What they make is modern fire music, and they do it quite well. However, the Jooklos often extend their group to include like-minded musicians. Unlike many groups that have a defined aesthetic and incorporate other musicians into that fold regularly, the Jooklos often form their groups based on the strengths of whom they are playing with. For the most part, this stays on the free jazz/free improv side of things, but they also have a strong footing in the neo-psychedelic scene, creating krautrock or eastern tinged exercises that focus less on free-form improvisation and more on the building of repetitive themes and their deconstruction (Peaceful Messages is an excellent album in this vein).

As you may have guessed by now, Mixture of Energies is jazz-based. Bertel and Lunds are great musicians to share an LP with the Jooklos, as they both play what are typically considered jazz instruments, but in a way that touches on modern experimental, ambient, psychedelic, etc. music. However, this album is still fiercely free jazz/improv related. Also, at this point I should stop referring to it as an LP, because it is a single-sided vinyl with one 23 minute track and is listed as an EP on Holidays Records website. Anyway, I do wish there were a second-side to this and hopefully this is a collaboration that sees another chance to record together because I think that the pairing works very well.

The album opens with wailing, serious wailing. This album features Virginia Genta on synthesizer, which was not something I was accustomed to her playing. She and bandmate Vanzan are mostly in the background during this opening blast, the sustained synthesizer notes climbing upward and providing texture and direction under the squall of the horns while Vanzan’s frenzied and completely free form drumming propel the piece forward. Bertel and Lunds are just blowing their lungs out here. There is little in terms of interplay, as this is a focus on histrionics and not subtly. The rollicking ride reminds me of Coltrane’s large ensemble for Ascension or Brotzmann’s big groups of the late 60s. The baritone sax and trumpet (I’m not sure what type of trumpet it is or if there are any effects being used on it) provide thick and low-register notes that, when played in unison, have the aural equivalent of the feeling of breathing, as did most of Ascension in my opinion, while also being played so violently at other parts that it has the intensity and feeling of suffocation so present on Brotzmann’s early work. This is in about a 12 minute span, so it’s exhausting to say the least (in a great, challenging but rewarding type of way).

About half-way through the 23 minutes the brass and reeds drop out and Vanzan switches to percussion. At this point, the percussion is creating a varied and sparse atmosphere and extends beyond instruments with a “drum” sound, while Genta hits the synthesizer with more aggression than the first half, the instrument sounding like a cross between an electric organ and an electric piano, raining down rapid fire notes with a serious lysergic quality that is also reminiscent of some of Sun Ra’s more spaced out jaunts.

In another couple of minutes the band hits the third part of this three part suite (my designation, not theirs), with both Lunds and Bertel jumping back into the mix. There is a moment of disjointed and uncomfortably spaced free playing, but when they ratchet up the energy again it takes on a different tone. Vanzan jumps back on the kit and becomes more rhythm based as he rides the high-hats with abandon, throwing in unorthodox fills using his toms. The synthesizer takes on a bigger role, filling space with long bouts of atmosphere, but also joining in with the leads in bursts of notes. Lunds takes the lead here and instead of straight blowing, also touches on several themes and melodic runs. It’s still almost an oppressive and thick sound due to the low-register of the instruments, but it features more nimble interplay in-between all the free cacophony, and the players develop into a type of call and response jam that is a little lighter in mood.

This is a very fine piece in my estimation. I really like the interplay between the band, whether it’s outright emotion and power, or more subtle back and forth. I like that this played to the strengths of Lunds and Bertel, but also in a way where each Jooklo had more of a supporting role, which isn’t something I often see on their records. The instrumentation was also very interesting in creating mood, because it really does have a bigger sound than four instruments. Like I said before, it is a jazz record above all else, but it does have a highly lysergic quality lurking beneath the façade. This is the main reason I always look out for Jooklo releases. The atmosphere in which music is currently created is shifting away from tropes to a more free mingling (as well as freely shared) of genres and ideas. Everything seems muddled, much to the chagrin of purists. I think the Jooklos are a great example of this new paradigm working out in the right way. They don’t have a seriously strong foothold in either jazz scenes or neo-psychedelic scenes (though, perhaps more so the latter because of their aesthetic and devotion to limited edition and highly collectible vinyl), yet they deserve respect from each. Their music has been a free sharing of ideas and concepts that has stretched beyond genres and the borders of countries, and in doing so has blossomed into something that represents everything that goes into it without being too busy or over-crowded. I think this has worked so well, and I don’t pretend to know the intent of any artist, because they play with a sincerity and emotional investment that is not contrived, and they use music to touch on what all good music (in my opinion) should strive for; music not for the body or the mind, but for the spirit (paraphrasing Sun Ra there). That’s what this record does so well. It’s a freeing of the spirit without pretenses. It is disjointed, sometimes you are being taken somewhere, sometimes you’re being stuck in place and bludgeoned with sound, but it’s always about passion and energy, focusing the purpose away from a narrative or linear path into pure feeling. That’s why this record works. It’s a mixture of energies, in terms of the players, their backgrounds, their instruments, their musical sensibilities, where they come from, the actual physical act of exerting energy to bring these ideas to life, and the result is beautiful.

You can buy the album from


Stef said...

Welcome Greg!Good to have you on the team.


g said...

Thank you! Looking forward to making many contributions.

Tim Niland said...

Excellent review, I love "busy" free jazz and this sounds really interesting. I wish I had a longer attention span, because some of the "spacey" albums reviewed here sound good too.