Despite having a musical style that on paper should appeal to my tastes, being a widely critically acclaimed group and having an extensive discography spread out over 3 decades, I’ve only checked out so far two releases from California-based instrumental progressive rock act, Djam Karet: 1991’s Burning the Hard City and 2003’s A Night for Baku. While I find the music on these albums to be good and very well played and produced, it didn’t grab me and made me have repeated listening, though I know that these albums have their fans, so I’m not writing them off.
In 2010 comes their newest studio offering, the 15th in number called The Heavy Soul Sessions, 5 years after the well-received and acclaimed Recollection Harvest which I have yet to hear, but definitely intend to after listening to this album.
The Heavy Soul Sessions was born as a result of live shows in which they played tracks spanning their 26 years of existence. They proceeded to record these tracks live-in-the-studio with no overdubbing. They have also included a cover song, Dedicated To K.C. by Richard Pinhas from his 1982 album, L’Ethique. Indeed this album sounds great, fresh and crisp both sound-wise and music-wise. In fact it has inspired me to go back and re-listen to the two albums I have of theirs and get some others I don’t have. So what you get here is a taste of the variety of flavours of the band’s output. You get a taste of space-rock, ambient and electronic music as well as a balanced portion of aggressive rock, warm analog synths and mellotron, spacey guitar solos and dreamy-eerie slow and pensive sections.
The opening track, Hungry Ghost is an intense guitar-lead piece with stunning synth, bass and drums work. There are also marvelous effects incorporated adding an additional richness layer. I have to say it sounds better than the original recording on A Night For Baku.
The Red Threaded Sexy Beast is an amalgam of two tracks, The Red Thread and Sexy Beast from A Night For Baku. Again, they just sound different here, and in my opinion much better, less raw, more refined, subtler, yet as fierce as the original. The band is “space-rocking“ here veering at times to more ambient territories and in others they ruffle their musical feathers violently. The sound is lush and enveloping, warm and inviting. I like how they mingled these two tracks into one. Listen to the two originals to appreciate how well it is done.
These two opening tracks have made me see A Night For Baku in a different light now and I’ll return to it with “fresh ears” now to see how I’ll digest it with this newly acquired appreciation.
Consider Figure Three is taken from the 1991 companion album to Burning The Hard City, Suspension & Displacement, which is contains ambient music. Indeed this track provides a respite from the intensity of it surrounding pieces and showcases Djam Karet’s abilities in creating strange and peculiar atmosphere. If anything this has made curious to listen to their electronic music side project Ukab Maerd (which is a name of a track from A Night For Baku). This is a very subtle piece in which not much goes on in terms of movement and melody, but it’s texture-wise focused and reveals only a small fragment of what they’re capable of doing with such an approach.
The Packing House is originally from their previous album Recollection Harvest. The last song, The Gypsy & The Hegemon is from there as well and if anything these two tracks only intensified my desire to listen to that album. The Packing House (as well as The Gypsy & The Hegemon) shows a more “progressive” facet of the band, if you will, as this piece is comprised of various themes as well as an introduction segment. The guitar pierces effectively through all the layers of sound with excellent thumping pacing by the bass and gorgeous keyboards playing in the background.
As for the Richard Pinhas cover song, Dedicated To K.C., I had to pull out my copy of L’Ethique as I haven’t heard it in ages to remind myself of this piece. Obviously it sounds completely different, much more alive and with a fuller body. However, the original piece is a spectacular composition in itself with very intricate playing and compositional structure; in fact it’s a progressive rock landmark composition in my opinion. And so I would reckon covering it would be a daunting task. And so along come Djam Karet and give this gorgeous piece renewed life starting with the production values this piece merits and continuing with extending its length and giving it their interpretation with their unique style and sound, making it sounds as if this is a Djam Karet song.
The Gypsy & The Hegemon, which closes the album, has a more forefront presence of keyboards than the rest of the tracks and provides for a very warm and comforting vibe as the melancholic melody sings its end-of-album farewell. The main theme gives way to the second part midway through the piece to a more bass and guitar dominated aggressive approach. As I mentioned with regards to The Packing House, the composition is more daring and explorative.
As I mentioned above, this album has lead me to re-evaluate my impressions of Djam Karet as well as to be able to fully appreciate their musicianship skills as well as compositional skills and attention to details. I’ll be checking out the albums from which these tracks originate. A recommended listen for folks who would like to get to know the band, as well for fans who’d like to listen to these re-interpret and enhanced compositions.
1. Hungry Ghost 8:32 (A Night for Baku)
2. The Red Threaded Sexy Beast 12:42 (two songs mixed together from A Night for Baku)
3. The Packing House 12:56 (Recollection Harvest)
4. Consider Figure Three 9:48 (Suspension & Displacement)
5. Dedicated To KC 9:48 (Richard Pinhas cover song)
6. The Gypsy And The Hegemon 10:55 (Recollection Harvest)
Gayle Ellett: Analog and Digital Keyboards
Mike Henderson: Electric Guitars and Effects
Aaron Kenyon: Electric 5-string Bass and Effects
Mike Murray: Electric Guitars and Effects
Chuck Oken, Jr.: Drums, Loops