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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Z-Country Paradise - Live in Lisbon (Leo Records, 2018) ****

The Berlin-based quintet Z-Country Paradise was conceived by reeds player Frank Gratkowski who has dreamt about such an experimental project for many years - a dream band that will explore dreams interspersed with nightmares, visions, and passions. A band that will flirt with the compositional and improvisational techniques of iconoclastic composers as Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Pierre Boulez and György Ligeti; the intensity of Jimi Hendrix and the electric groups of Miles Davis; the hardcore avant-punk of guitarist Thurston Moore and the experimental performance art of Laurie Anderson.

Gratkowski found a perfect partner-in-crime for this project - Serbian vocalist-actress Jelena Kuljić . She intensifies the mischievous-rebellious spirit of Gratkowski and Z-Country Paradise with her charismatic delivery of poems by French Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) and Serbian-American Charles Simic (b.1938). Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima and bass player Oliver Potratz, who has collaborated before with Kalima, charge the musical envelope with tough, edgy attacks, and Christian Marien adds nervous, fractured rhythmic patterns that bring to mind the work of Jim Black.

Live in Lisbon, recorded on August 2016 during the Jazz em Agosto festival, and follows the self-titled, self-produced debut, studio album of Z-Country Paradise from 2015. Kuljić singing-playing-acting is the focal point of Z-Country Paradise. She transform the poetic state-of-mind of Rimbaud and Simic into complex yet playful cabaret dramas where she alternates between several roles and characters, all possessed with urgent passion and emotional power. Kuljić spices her suggestive vocals with tempting mystery and captivating elegance. The four male musicians embrace her delivery with irresistible rhythmic attacks.

Z-Country Paradise unique combustion of words, images, sounds and rhythms transforms Rimbaud’s famous, lustful “My Little Lovelies” to a bluesy, beat poem. Rimbaud caustic humor is updated with Kalima’s psychedelic slide guitar and Gratkowski’s soulful alto sax solo. The surreal prose of Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell” is staged as an intimate conversation of Kuljić with Kalima, enveloped with distant, sudden sounds and pulses, but eventually explodes with cathartic shouts and chaotic playing. The adaption of Simic’s “Clouds Gathering” captures beautifully the subtle drama of this dark, restless poem that anticipates “unhappy endings”.