IT’S ONE of those sentences you hear periodically when chewing the fat about the music: “Ooh no, though, I really don’t like jazz”. Which, each to their own, live and let live, vive la difference without question; but, which, you imagine may be based on some particularly untethered, free-associating inversion of the style, say, Coltrane’s “Sun Ship”; when, as those of who have fallen inside the jazz in one or way or another know, it’s an umbrella – nopes, a progression, a vector – that covers so much.
You’ve got the originators, way back a century now: Louie, Bix Beiderbecke, whose early riots of weaving sound kicked the door open; on through the more formal big band and dance band styles through to swing, the next giant step coming with Charlie Parker’s move into bop, the energy levels and musicianship stepping up; the hard, almost punk rush of Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song”, the cool of Miles; everything freeing up with Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman; beyond.
And OK, the free jazz might not be for you, but I really can’t believe someone wouldn’t find incredible beauty inside works such as Alice Coltrane’s “The Blue Nile”; Paul Horn’s incredible, atmospheric meditations for solo flute; or even – and I’m prepared to make my last stand on this hill – the mod jazz sheer fun of Dudley Moore, all natty suits and The Scotch of St James. Y’see: there’s so many jazzes inside the catch-all matryoshka doll of “jazz”.
British jazz is in the middle of a particularly fertile phase this past couple of years, with the ferocious dub fire of The Comet is Coming spearheading a movement with Nubiya Garcia, Sons of Kemet, Portico Quartet, GoGo Penguin, Neil Cowley; but there’s great things happening across the globe too, with fusions of electronica and ambient, impro et al making for some genuinely lovely, cutting-edge sonic craft. I’d recommend, fr’instance, the rather beguiling Noteland by Canadian improvisers Peace Flag Ensemble – both free and totally melodic. Oh, and how could I forget the space-prog-disco of Jaga Jazzist’s offworld odyssey, Pyramid? Properly cosmic.
All of which meander leads me into an appreciation of the multi- (or, in their parlance, outernational collective Spiritczualic Enhancement Center – a name the vocal rendering of which seems to click and cause involuntary swallowing, until you learn the ‘cz’ follows the Polish pronunciation – thus, ‘tch’. an outfit who self-describe as a “spectral trance-jazz ensemble with a psychedelic-punk methodology”. Let’s allow them that, given the delicious cosmic offering they’re dropping in a staggered fashion over the next fortnight, Carpet Album – CD first, vinyl just a week later.
Carpet Album is their fourth outing since their first, cassette-only missive, Who Corrupted Our Wave, Back In 1969?, just three years ago, and thus nearer an aeon in coronaviral time; it is a proper collective incarnate, drawing on the chops and the musical nous of 18 or so members with individual roots in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Turkey, as well as the UK and the USA. Literally, a world of sound to bring to bear. And breathe.
The jazz they deal in? Hypnotic, yep, for sure; perhaps a little (a lot) krautrocky, post-rocky; harmonious, exploratory, absolutely steeped in atmospherics. The accompanying documentation talks the Zs, Zawinul and Zappa, but for your goodly scribe I’m hearing only the faintest ghost of the fusion; there’s something much deeper, lusher, less grandstanding on display here – it’s a little more !Impulse! Records, thoughtful, transporting, resplendent in a traditional and many coloured agbada, much more Pharoah than Joe and Frank, and much, much more rural German commune scene, delayed from ’68.
They’ve got the nod from 6 Music’s Gilles Peterson, who called them “incredible”; CAN’s Damo Suzuki has joined them on stage several times.
Like the collective’s membership, the album was put together sans frontières: it was recorded in Bucharest, Prague, a church in Hamburg and at a rural Danish commune, then mixed in Nice and on Croatian coast; all while maintaining a batcave in that most cosmopolitan hub, Berlin, home of their current label, Kryptox.
Itself a mere three years young, label boss Mathias Modica has nothing but praise for Spiritczualic Enhancement Center, who he sees as lighting a fire in a city renowned for its electronica: “Berlin used to be the world capital of techno,” he says, “but things have been changing a lot because there are so many ‘real’ musicians moving here.
“Jazz, psychedelic, indie: there is a huge new scene, especially in the Kreuzberg and Neukölln areas.
“Spiritczualic Enhancement Center are the core of this new scene with their crazy studio in Neukölln, where the freakiest people of the new psychedelic scene meet”. Sounds good, right? Hell, it is good. Really good.
Carpet Album – and I have a theory about the name, of which more later – begins the consciousness expansion with immediate effect on “Going To Wadi Rum”, a reply to the opening track from 2019’s Transporting Salt, on which they were already on the way back from that semi-mythical place. It’s lush and cosmic – to retread a point I’ve already advanced, it’s the Alice Coltrane of !Impulse! rather than her (for me), flatter, somehow more diminished Atlantic oeuvre; all kinds of bells and strings, harp intricacy, electric piano in a fluvial harmony, busy going nowhere particular in a brilliantly satisfying way, one for an intimate gathering in the small hours, all throws and lava lamps and stoned immaculate grins – and for me, gets into the territory of the brilliant Japanese outré hip-hop collective Major Force West. That’s big props.
“Slight Gust Of Wind” intensifies the baroque breathlessness of your sonic surrounds with all the heat that an electric piano conjures in the right hands, with Air in their pomp floating gracefully across a spare, muscular breakbeat, sombre, enveloping atmospheres a-plenty; while “360° Of Harmony” is glittering, impressionistic meander, akin to Jaki Liebezeit or Malcolm Catto jamming with the singular vision of Matthew Gordon, aka Pie Eye Collective.
Tongues are least acquainted with cheeks in the title of “Sell It To HBO”, passing oblique comment on the ever-voracious repurposing of your favourite tunes for incidental music – it’d be a helluva scene that rode out on this, perhaps a spy murder at an acid party, all oil projections and border guards, retro synthesisers howling a siren song over perspiring tom-toms, wide eyes and incantations, buried riffs and what sounds like an autoharp bringing a Turkish psych drench. “Mortality Management” is a fittingly ominous coda, more shadowy, big thrumming bass synths, shadowy doorways and spiked cocktail woozy; maybe the point at which you peak, realise that you’re higher than you’d really like to be, seeking a safe harbour in the rain-lashed back streets, faces blurring. Deep and evocative.
You can impute from the title that perhaps “Carpet Inauguration” was a first footing in the direction of this, album the fourth, and it stays faithful to the direction of travel; plunging to a deeper circle, sparser somehow, all rhythmic patterning and washes of sound haze. The calm after the storm, safe behind thick drapes. For now … as “This One Is On You, Adrian” fair prowls in, bass clicky, synths vamping with chordal intensity, the percussion crisp, clattering in all the right ways, as the synth steps forward to sing a haunting lament; music to investigate those totally forgotten industrial areas that a really big city always hosts; completely stripped of life in way, say, Manchester’s Ancoats was in the mid-Nineties. Music to fully embrace the eerie to, and so much closer to CAN than any traditional conception of jazz you may entertain.
You’ll find “My Silence Is Spanish” embedded for your delectation down at the end there, which has a mushroomy motorik absolutely ripe for an impromptu squat gig. It’s a kinda forever groove, in that you can sense this tune could last forever and that would be absolutely the right thing both for it to do and for you to experience; do you dig what you hear? I fully suggest spinning your head deep inside the album, in which case.
“My Silence …” segues into the soundtrack atmospheres of the the vinyl closer, “Giving It”, all predicated on a pulse of old-skool electronica drone to anchor yourself to as sonic atmosphere layers like winter fog; dit-dits, swooshes, licks; smoulders into a groove, a wah-wah intermittent as deep clots of sound tug at your ankles; catches fire with the blackest flame, tugs you inside with a terrible kiss.
Digitally, you get the bonus “Persian VHS Dealer” which has more of a low-slung, sleazy groove to it, all Arabic intervals and a proggy atmosphere, here speeding up, slowing again; thnk maybe Jaga Jazzist soundtracking a long-lost Seventies film set on a Gulf delta.
Carpet Album – that theory? With its dark, layered conceits, its billowing haze of atmospherics, looseness (almost) always subducted to the greater evocative purpose of the record, is music to indulge to; music to sprawl to. To glory in, star-shaped on your floor, while it pretty much owns you. It opens with a luring, alluring, light lushness only, with a perfect smile, to tempt you to follow it through streets ever less populous to where the wild things are – pulsing with the kosmiche and frankly, psychedelic as fuck. If you’ve switched on to recent albums by The Holy Family and The Heliocentrics, you’ll be well equipped to journey here. Travel deep and travel wisely.
Spiritczualic Enhancement Center’s Carpet Album will be released digitally on October 29th, with a vinyl pressing following on November 5th; to snare your copy, pop yourself over to Kryptox’ Bandcamp page forthwith.