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Monday, January 17, 2022

Das Kondensat - 2 (WhyPlayJazz, 2021) ****

War between people and machines sells a lot of cinema tickets – and has paid for a lot of ritzy Hollywood mansions too. Sometimes, however, humans and gadgets team up for the greater good. The second album from Das Kondensat is a luminous example of the turbo-charged musical moments that are possible when acoustic and digital forces combine.

Das Kondensat is a trio from Berlin featuring Gebhard Ullmann (saxophone, sampler, loops), Oliver Potratz (e-bass, analogue effects) and Eric Schaefer (drums, modular synth). Their collected credentials range across almost every genre and style of music imaginable. Now, with a new album called 2, they’ve cooked up something almost unimaginable. “I want to say things in new and different ways,” says Ullmann. “That gets easier over time, as artistic expression gets more efficient.”

Twists and turns, peril and panic

Listeners may be unsure what to expect from this group. The first track, '3031 A.D Variable,' deepens that sense of uncertainty. Sighs from the saxophone brush against digital scrapes and squawks. The second track, 'Pendulum,' emerges from this opaque paranoia with a synthy bassline and groovy drums, cuddled beneath a thick-quilt sax sound. The track gets carried away with its own danceable rhythm, then crumbles to dust, rises, crumbles, rises again. Schaefer’s interest in dub music is unmistakable here – but above the nick-nacks and doodads, Ullmann’s sax is the real storyteller, adding twists and turns, peril and panic.

The three musicians explore separate paths in 'Impromptu #5.' Sax howling through a gently-swaying forest, bass scrambling over rough terrain, drums sprinting over rickety rope bridges. They eventually meet for a prog-rocky groove with a swaggering attitude, as if strutting away from a bank robbery via the back door while the police surround the front.

Somersaults and the supernatural

'I Was Born in Cleveland Ohio Part 1' features another hip-bumping bassline, with the sax now somersaulting in zero gravity. From beyond the cosmos, we hear spliced-in samples of Albert Ayler explaining that music is a natural force. The drums patter and clatter, cymbals roaring. Then levels lurch. Volumes veer off. The entire universe collapses. A breath-taking piece of music.

'P (n+1)' combines broken hearts with racing pulses, its ballady beauty battered by rough-edged rhythms. For 'Bass Revenge,' Potratz cooks up a carb-loaded feast of low frequencies, seasoned by Schaefer’s peppery drumming and Ullmann’s creamy sax. 'Certain Patterns' in the Field then offers natural narrative progressions disrupted by supernatural sax sirens and gurgly robo-burps.

More questions than answers

Track 8, 'Lazer ’73,' is a riveting musical dialogue. Gizmos whir and whistle. Bass and drums inject a booster-shot of bounciness, laced with a purring sax riff. The party occasionally breaks down for sombre contemplations of existential despair, but quickly slips back into its dancing shoes each time.

Next is '3031 A.D. Stasis,' where the saxophone has fallen into an abandoned quarry and something scary has picked up the scent. Were those gunshots? Growling? Is anybody out there? The band answers with 'I Was Born in Cleveland Ohio Part 2,' a song that resists labels – and then dumps all labels into a toxic swamp. The last song, 'Étoile Schnuppe,' sends the listener away with more questions than answers. It begins introspective, with the musicians’ eyes shifted away from distant galaxies and now staring down at their tapping feet. Animal noises? A mermaid? A ticking timebomb? And then… nothing.

Teaming up for the greater good

As the name suggests, 2 is the second album by Das Kondensat. It was recorded live, without overdubs. The result is full of swoops, arcs and melodrama. The jagged corners are smoothed by honeyed, ghostly insinuations. The emotions are high and unashamed. It’s an album where people and machines get together to oil each other’s moving parts and unleash their combined force. Will it be enough to save humanity? Only time will tell. Perhaps a third album might resolve it once and for all…

The album is available on CD and as a digital download. Find more information here .

Check out this live performance to get a flavour of the band’s sound and style: