Click here to [close]

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Radical Trumpet of Mazen Kerbaj

Lebanese, Berlin-based experimental trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj is a man of many gifts. He is a brilliant, non-conformist comic book artist, graphic designer, highly inventive improviser, and founder of the experimental Lebanese label Al-Maslakh and the Irtijal festival, who keeps expanding the sonic spectrum of the trumpet. Now, 14 years after Kerbaj released his debut solo album, Brt Vrt Zrt Krt (Al Maslakh, 2005), he returns with two solo albums of the prepared trumpet that further cement his position as a serial trumpet disrupter.

Mazen Kerbaj – Solo Trumpet Vol. 2.1 No Cuts, No Overdubs, No Use of Electronics (Discrepant, 2019) ***½

This is the ‘acoustic’ version of the solo trumpet, meaning what you hear is what it is, with no cuts, overdubs or electronics. This album was recorded over two days in Berlin on November and December 2016 and is dedicated to Kerbaj’s close comrade, fellow-Lebanese guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui, who plays with him in the “A” Trio, Karkhana group and the Johnny Kafta Anti-Vegetarian Orchestra.

The sounds and other sonic assaults that you may hear on this album reflect Kerbaj’s sober attitude towards the trumpet. He sees this instrument as no more than an assemblage of various metal objects that serve as random means to transfer air and breaths and generate weird series squawks, cackles, howls and squeals, often mutated while using objects attached to the trumpet mouthpiece or bell. Kerbaj sounds like he is enjoying rebelling against the common phonetics and syntax of the trumpet and its brass instruments legacy.

The nine pieces highlight Kerbaj’s singular arsenal of sounds that flirts with raw, abstract noises, krautrock and industrial sounds of alien mutants who may live underwater, or as the British Discrepant label prefers to imagine it: like a restful humpback whale puffing on a hookah pipe at the ocean’s deep end. But Kerbaj is not only a mad yet restful scientist of the futurist trumpet. He has developed a radical mastery of the trumpet and idiosyncratic extended techniques and vocabulary and he knows how to paint arresting soundscapes, sketch tense cinematic narratives, and tell disturbed sonic stories, always spiced with fine doses of dark humor. His ideas may ignite tortured nightmares but also enrich and open your consciousness to magnificent the universe of out-of-this-universe sounds. The last piece is dedicated to the late Dutch composer and inventor of experimental instruments Michel Waisvisz.

Mazen Kerbaj – Solo Trumpet Vol. 2.2 Cuts, Overdubs, Use of Electronics (Discrepant, 2019) ****

Vol. 2.2 suggests the ‘electric’ twin version of the solo trumpet project. Kerbaj adds effects, loop pedals, overdubs and even a crackle synthesizer. The five pieces were recorded in various locations, beginning in 2014 and concluding on December 2018. Discrepant promises that the notion of being transported to a mutant underwater alien community is still effective but the restful whales enter now their meditative happy hour but keep flirting with new unorthodox undercurrents.

Kerbaj knows how to create a deceiving aesthetics where nothing that may tickle even the most experienced ears is what you wish it would be or the manner it should sound. But if you are still here you are probably ready for this revelatory trip and eager to meet again the beast from the deep. And this beast is guaranteed to hypnotize you with its perverted dance moves (“Dance Music For Lazy People”, “I’ll Be A Digital Bitch For You”), evocative, polyphonic grooves (“Just The Three Of Us”) and seductive drones (“I Always Dreamt To Be A Guitar Player”, “Dancing With Myself”) before disappearing into darkest oceanic sink holes.

All pieces are delivered with a provocative sense of invention and healthy irony. You may subscribe to the label advice and return again and again to these albums searching for the doped up seal stranded in a phantom island, appearing and disappearing as the music dictates it to.