Goran Kajfes Subtropic Arkestra – “The Reason Why Vol. 1”


Goran Kajfes - "The Reason Why Vol 1"In 2011, Goran Kajfes released the fascinating double album X/Y.  The X was a throwback to the period of the late-60s, early-70s when subgenres like world, soul, and spiritual jazz were blended into indiscriminate bundles of euphoric celebratory music.  Artists like Don Cherry, Sun Ra, and Archie Shepp were innovators and searchers of the various music’s commonalities, turning them into fearless expressions of inventive, deep, and fun music.  Kajfes’ X plunged right into that territory, but the composer gave it his own branding of psychedelic flavor, bringing out a party-time atmosphere from thoughtfully textured music.

The Y in that double-release was something else entirely.  Building on the work of early soundscapers like Brian Eno, Cluster, and Bill Laswell, Kafjes wove together a series of meditative pieces that droned with a space-age ambiance and emitted the distant warmth of fluttering stars.  Its minimalistic expressions seemed in direct contrast to the wild effusiveness of the X release.

Except that it wasn’t.  Both schools of music experimented with the details in the sound, bringing nuances to the forefront… just doing it with varying degrees of provocation.  Furthermore, there was a prevailing disregard to how different influences should be compartmentalized and separated by conventional standards.  There is more in common between different musics than that which separates them.  Both schools of music seemed to grasp this.

On Goran Kajfes newest release The Reason Why Vol. 1, he digs up the roots of that music.

Your album personnel:  Goran Kajfes (trumpet), Johan Berthling (bass), Per Ruskträsk Johansson (saxophones, flute), Jonas Kullhammar (saxophones, flute), Jesper Nordenström (organ, cembalo), Andreas Söderström (electric guitar), Andreas Werliin (drums, percussion), Lars Skoglund (drums, percussion), Mats Äleklint (trombone), and Robert Östlund (Moog, electric guitar).

Performing renditions of the composers and ensembles that informed the music of X/Y, Kajfes brings the albums under the same roof with a singular expression of his personal sound, while giving some insight into how he views the music through his own eyes and ears.  Backed by his Subtropic Arkestra, he channels the simultaneous imagery of outer space big band jazz like Sun Ra, and the finely textured ambient drive of Krautrock acts like Cluster, while voicing this music with Kajfes’s personal blend of jazz, rock, and psychedelia.  It sounds like there’s a lot going on here… and there is… but Kajfes offers it up in a package so very accessible, and so very fun.

Opening track “Yakar Inceden Inceden” somersaults off the shoulders of Turkish-psych composer Edip Akbayram, and puts on full display Kajfes’ signature high voltage attack.  Whereas, on his rendition of Soft Machine’s “The Nodder,” Kajfes illustrates that the opposite side of a high voltage attack is the ambient hum of electricity.  It’s a song with a prowling rhythm and melting harmonies, buffeted by fluttering electronic squiggles, capturing some traits of the original, but sounding like a generation on down the lineage.

Perhaps the most intriguing album track is Kajfes’ rendition of Celestine Ukwu’s “Okwukwe Na Nchekwube,” from which he develops the melody from the Nigerian musician’s folkloric languor up into a modern jazz psych-groove that steps into territory occupied by another unique act… Rob Mazurek’s Sao Paulo Underground… who also emits a party-time celebratory space-age sound from music that has a regional folk music at its heart.  Even as the track builds into futuristic electronic emissions and wailing shouts of brass and woodwinds, there remains an observable trace of the seaside peacefulness of Ukwu’s original.

On the other hand, Kajfes’ rendition of Tame Impala’s “Desire Be, Desire Go” takes a divergent path from the original.  There is an almost majestic persona to Kajfes’ version, leaving behind the grinding demeanor of the original and, instead, lifting off into soaring statements of melody with a groove that leaves the earth below, as well.  This, eventually, develops into a cool blues blowing session, with saxophones exuberantly tearing the song in two.

His rendition of Cluster’s “Es War Einmal” again goes to the heart of Kajfes’ reasoning that the roots of his X and Y albums aren’t that far removed.  Starting off with a church mouse hush, the song builds up intensity through repetition, adding more layers to a simple statement of melody and rhythm.  Eventually it grows into something far more complex than the simple peep of a mouse from which it began.  The rendition of Bo Hansson’s “Storstad” is upbeat right from the start, but there is a similar layering that lets Kajfes infuse the song with much of the subdued fantasy-story mystery of the original.  And just as his take on Cluster, Kajfes finds a way to fuse celebratory music with a sound that borders, at times, on meditative.

The cover of Archimedes Badkar’s “Badidoom” plays it pretty close to the original, but takes more to soaring and gives a finer polish to its notes to aid with flight.  It has an infectious groove and a catchy melody and so many wonderful details to get lost in.  With acoustic guitar leading the way, the orchestra offers up the cool jazz icy sheen of the 1970s …  and not that far removed from fellow Dutch musician Benjamin Herman and his New Cool Collective… the descending downpours of strings glittering brilliantly off the rhythmic hop and bounce.

The reference to Sao Paulo Underground is even more relevant for album closer “Karina.”  A song by Arthur Verocai, a Brazilian musician who was part of the innovative Tropicalia movement… a music form that SPU performs an updated version of.  Kajfes builds up to a frenzy pretty quick, going from zero to eighty in no time… fronted by an electric guitar burn and matching fire on keys and percussion.  Methodical statements by woodwinds and horns counteract some of the rhythmic fury, but mostly it gets taken for a very fun ride.

And when it all gets boiled down, when the influences and the backstories and historical references are out of mind, this album, stocked high with textures and colors and shading that work together seamlessly in a way that engages both heart and mind, is very fun music, as simple as that.

Released on the Headspin Recordings label.

Jazz from Sweden.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3 | Vinyl