Jazz CD Reviews

Brainkiller – Colourless Green Superheroes – RareNoise

Brainkiller: eclectic instrumentalists ready to zap (or Zappa-fry) the membrane.

Published on September 3, 2013

Brainkiller – Colourless Green Superheroes – RareNoise RNR033, 45:47 [7/15/13] ***:

(Jacob Koller – piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboards; Brian Allen – trombone, effects; Hernan Hecht – drums; Coppé – vocals (track 3))

Brainkiller is not some variety of zombie-instigated, horror-flecked musicians. The threesome is a hard-to-describe trio which dispenses with expectations of genre, categorization or boundaries. The instrumental group was formed by trombonist Brian Allen (also known as Knoernschild) and keyboardist Jacob Koller (whose alias is Otaku), who combined talents and one first name and one last name to create Brainkiller. Third member drummer, Hernan Hecht (AKA Mr. PacMan), joined in 2007, and provides a needed rhythmic backbone to the surreal amalgam of free-flowing jazz, rock and Frank Zappa-esque humor. Colourless Green Superheroes is Brainkiller’s sophomore release (and second on the forward-seeking London label, RareNoise): the first was the 2010 outing, The Infiltration. The new album is available on CD, vinyl and hi-res digital download. This review refers to the compact disc version.

Band members cite numerous inspirations, including but not exclusive to Tim Berne, Ellery Eskelin, Keith Jarrett, Paul Bley, Aphex Twin, Radiohead, Paul Motian and Phil Collins-era Brand X. Listeners may or may not pluck out those influences on the 13 short tracks which total 45 minutes (the lengthiest tune is just over five minutes long while the shortest cut is just over a minute). Despite the unorthodox philosophy, though, most material has a neo-jazz/power trio attitude readymade for enthusiasts of the Esbjörn Svensson Trio (or E.S.T.), the Neil Cowley Trio or the Bad Plus: jazz for those who like alternative music as well. For a basic three-piece band, Brainkiller sometimes seems like a bigger ensemble. On Koller’s loud-to-quiet opener, “The Vindicator Returns,” (the title nods to a tune from the trio’s debut) Allen employs digital effects to give his trombone an electric guitar-like quality, while Koller overdrives his Fender Rhodes to deliver an extra iota of distortion, as Hecht roundly plugs any sound holes with rolling drum fills. The skittish “Scribble” jumps from an electronica-etched dance groove to an oompah beat: the kind of edgy arrangement which colors Björk’s most laudable songs. Alternative dance touches are more pronounced on the only vocal track, experimental pop piece “Empty Words,” which features generally nonverbal articulating from Japanese electronic music singer-songwriter Coppé, who crafts seductive expressions complimented by a funky under-groove, Allen’s trombone and someone’s clarinet sound (it is uncertain whether it comes from Koller’s keys or Allen’s effects).

The numbers which have the clearest jazz intentions involve “Top of the World,” which balances piano jazz and an electronica sheen highlighted by Hecht’s off-kilter drums: it is here where Cowley or Svensson fans will discover common ground. Koller’s “Otaku Goes to a Rave,” which notwithstanding its title is jazz not dance music, is another which Bad Plus or Cowley listeners will appreciate. Allen’s chamber-jazz “Orange Grey Shades” is softened and lyrical, but not without explorative flourishes, including muffled speech which creeps in and then slithers out. But mostly eclecticism is the rule. Allen’s mournful “A Piedi Verso Il Sole” (Italian for “Walk Into the Sun”) is a lament of sorts, where Allen’s trombone has a tender tenor sax characteristic: the cinematic tune is perhaps a dirge to a hero’s final walk into the sunset during the closing credits of a movie. Allen showcases the other side of his mood with the lighthearted “Noodlin,” which begins with solo acoustic piano, followed by jocular voices which seem to maneuver the improvisation (probably not: the trio makes a note of pre-composing even the most unrestricted sections, with the exception of solos), then a muted trombone solo, and lastly an enthusiastic trio romp. Upbeat jazz-rock tunes encompass Koller’s convoluted “Plates,” a complex, post-Zappa-esque groove study, where trombone is used as a rhythm tool; and there’s Allen’s discordant jam, “Secret Mission,” accentuated not by a John Barry-ish theme but by hip-hop vocal inflections, and later a highly fuzzed keyboard bass line and Allen’s chaotic trombone: the second half, though, could be utilized (at least partially) as a chase theme for one of the newer Jason Bourne action pictures. Brainkiller concludes with Allen’s slow-groove wind-up, “To Be Continued,” which has a reflective but upfront flicker and somewhat subdued nature, shaded by Koller’s lightly over-amped Fender Rhodes, Allen’s effects-laced trombone and Hecht’s focused drums, which steer the otherwise drifting arrangement. Brainkiller still has room to grow. Compositions are intriguing but lack something special: despite the music’s diversity, sometimes the musical slanting is too similar. Anyone who wants a taste of Brainkiller can do so by watching a short, online promo.

TrackList: The Vindicator Returns; Scribble; Empty Words; Top of the World; Orange Grey Shades; A Piedi Verso Il Sole; Plates; Noodlin; Labratorio; Secret Mission; Otaku Goes to a Rave; Viv; To Be Continued.

—Doug Simpson

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