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Sunday, December 17, 2017

LAMA + Joachim Badenhorst - Metamorphosis (Clean Feed, 2017) ****½

By Stef

They're back. After the acclaimed "The Elephant's Journey", the international band consisting of Joachim Badenhorst on clarinet and bass clarinet, Susana Santos Silva on trumpet, Gonçalo Almeida  on double bass, keys, effects and loops, and Greg Smith on drums and electronics. And we're glad they're back with an even stronger suite-like album, one that grows with each listen. All tracks are "composed", or should I say structured around an agreed build-up and some common melodies, or melodic phrases, because the word "theme" seems too heavy in this light-textured and dark album. 

Conceptually, it's a long metamorphosis, as the tracks are called, growing out of faint nothingness, out of eery drone-like electronics, something emerges ... a hard to describe sound or cluster of sounds, weird and welcoming, with whispers of wind and high vibrating tones from trumpet and clarinet. Tension mounts. Electronics and percussive screeches create a psychedelic atmosphere that shifts into a slow pulse, driven by a gentle phrase on the clarinet, a deep bass ... opening fully, blossoming with Susana Santos Silva's klezmer-like warm melody inviting the clarinet for counterpoint improvisation, sensitive and fragile and at the same time joyful and sad. Then amazingly the electronics and drums drive the whole tune away, transforming the piece into sheer agony, anger and pain, full of chaos and madness. As a listener, you've travelled a long way. You've experienced a myriad of conflicting emotions, leaving you perplexed. And it works. It works well. 

The second metamorphosis starts joyfully with clarinet and trumpet weaving similar phrases together without finding the unison, increasing the tempo gradually until the whole thing becomes really violent until it shifts into slow and calm open space, density disappears as tension and expectation increase. Here again, out of seeming chaos a wonderful tune emerges - somewhat reminiscent of a Harris Eisenstadt composition on Guewel - and then you notice that it's actually been there all along. Free improvisation and planned moments merge perfectly into each other, adding surprise and wonder as you are taken along on this wonderful journey. 

Like on the band's other albums, beauty and lyricism are contrasted with darkness and harsh sounds, or not even that, they are part of the same flow, they are the same, just in another form or shape. And that makes it fascinating. 

The album also has the band's version of Joachim Badenhorst's "Comacina Dreaming", a wonderful folk theme, that could have been part of the Godfather soundtrack, dark and dancing, and we have already heard on albums by Equilibrium, Mikkel Ploug, Carate Urio and Celio/Baggiani Group. Its etheric tone gets a totally different perspective here, and the theme gets one of its best renditions by Santos Silva's deep yearning tone, alternating between growls and purity. 

The album ends with a Greg Smith composition, "Dark Corners", which flows out of the previous track like a funeral march, slow, rhythmic and sad. 

The strength of this music starts with the strenghts of the compositions - and kudos to Almeida for that - combined with the four artists' clear vision of what kind of out-of-the-box music they want to play together. There is no script for a unique sound. It requires a deep understanding of each other's sensitivities and taste, and I would say that here the match is perfect in just doing that: to create a very special signature sound together. This is the kind of magic I like. And you should too! 


Colin Green said...

Given the album title, perhaps it’s a homage to Ovid, in the year 2,000 years after his death: “Of bodies chang'd to various forms, I sing”.

Gennaro Z. said...

Welcome back Stef, excellent review as always.
Another awesome record by Clean Feed