Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - From The Stairwell

Upon listening to The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, one will find that their lengthy name is actually quite fitting to their sound. The hodgepodge septet of Europeans (the ‘Ensemble’) began its peculiar origin (‘Kilimanjaro’) when band founders Jason Köhnen (AKA breakcore musician Bong-Ra) and Gideon Kiers began merging their audio and visual skills to readapt old films such as Nosferatu and Metropolis. The ‘Darkjazz’ part of their title is just that, an arcane interpretation of the otherwise familiar jazz stylings we all know. While not as grim-sounding as their German contemporaries, Bohren & Der Club Of Gore, TKDE exhibits an interesting mix of the dismal and the serene while constructing an atmosphere that is easy to be immersed in.

From the Stairwell comes to us after two little-known, but otherwise well-received LPs; their 2006 eponymous debut and 2009’s Here Be Dragons. In their previous works, TKDE have had a troubled way with direction and structure which, while still interesting, lead listeners to blur the line between The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and their improvisational alter-ego band, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation. In finally setting the two bands apart, From the Stairwell takes us on a winding tour of more of everything that had initially made their music interesting. More trip-hop, more post-rock and more electronic bits. With that, it plays as their most distinguished and intentional effort yet.

From a sultry string section leading into sinister horn and bass tones, the opening track, All is One, carries itself into a delicate piano section reminiscent of a Miyazaki film. It’s the perfect opener for the album to preview what kind of new tricks TKDE has to offer on this release. As the song progresses into an irregular ride pattern behind queasy muted brass tones and a certain ominous drone, we get our first taste of Charlotte Cegarra’s eerie, hostile vocals that take us to a tense and smoky jazz club. This is where TKDE’s imagery begins.

Only fifteen minutes later are we taken into the unlikely gem Cocaine, which sees your ears stumbling into gritty, busy factory that seem to be operated by… no one? Ghosts? It might not fit into the jazz-influenced mold that the rest of the songs on the album do but it’s the most evident result of TKDE’s experimentation within a sound they are already comfortable with. This barren track is full of industrial tones, creeping along with machinery noises, reversed chimes and what appears to be samples of steam-powered mechanisms that just grow colder and more intense until an ambient light is reached near the end.

On later tracks, such as White Eyes, the hopeful Celladoor and Les Étoiles Mutantes (The Mutant Stars), the band shows off the recent addition of Tortoise-esque post-rock elements to their repertoire as well as a ton of electronic bleeps and fizzes, no doubt on account of Bong-Ra’s background. The latter track, while not the closer, brings the LP back to the atmosphere it started on in All is One, only on a higher plane, a sign that we’ve now come up From the Stairwell. The bending guitar tones and electric keys behind Cegarra’s echoing voice bring to mind some of Stars of the Lid’s earlier material and set the music in some sort of luxurious floating space beatnik club leaving the earth’s surroundings playing only the most sophisticated of future-jazz.

It’s a shame that TKDE thought it was necessary to include the 12-minute, drawn out drone-fest that is the actual closer, Past Midnight. Without that track, in the light of everything mentioned above, I would have forgotten about the few things I thought weak from this release: Sporadic encounters with long, dragging sections somewhere between filler and build-up with often no details of interest as well as very busy segments where too many tones are blending and it’s difficult to comprehend what is going on in an otherwise quite articulate release.

As much as The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble’s brand of jazz isn’t mainstream material by any stretch, with From The Stairwell, they’ve made themselves accessible for the first time. By mastering what they already had to offer and then adding even more flesh to their bones, they’ve concocted a release bound to entice more than simply their obscure cult fan base. Finally established as a band with direction and intent, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble’s 3rd LP is one to be taken in by an audience as diverse as the influences present in it.

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