Die Glorreichen Sieben – Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World (A Tribute to Neil Young) [TrackList follows] – Boomslang LC 09496, 59:56 [11/15/13] ***1/2:
(Kalle Kalima – electric guitar; Flo Götte – bass; Christian Lillinger – drums, percussion (right channel); Alfred Vogel – drums, percussion (left channel))
If your idea of a fun time is hearing a free improv performance of Neil Young’s music, the European instrumental group Die Glorreichen Sieben (English translation: the Magnificent Seven) has the album for you. The quartet’s genre-clashing release, Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World (subtitled as A Tribute to Neil Young), is an hour-long reinterpretation of nine of Young’s songs, including the tune which inspired the record’s title. The members of Die Glorreichen Sieben are well-versed with homage. Two years ago, the band ventured into unconventional waters with an exploration of themes associated with iconic western movies and television shows, including Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns. Additionally, guitarist Kalle Kalima has honored some of his cinematic heroes with music which focuses on Stanley Kubrick, Luis Bunuel and David Lynch.
Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World came out in late 2013. It is doubtful many outside of Europe are aware of this music or the band, so now is as good as any other time to discover this outward-bound material. Regardless of connotations of a free jazz noise fest, Die Glorreichen Sieben do not frequently stray far from Young’s central themes. Certainly, there are several instances when sections veer away from Young’s recognizable tunes, but often Kalima, bassist Flo Götte and double drummers Christian Lillinger and Alfred Vogel maintain restraint and familiarity. Diehard fans of Young’s rock, country and folk-inclined material may not appreciate these extreme transformations, but modernistic jazz aficionados will probably comprehend the point of this project.
When Young rocks out with his long-time backing band, Crazy Horse, the emphasis is on twin guitars. Die Glorreichen Sieben utilizes two drummers (Vogel is heard in the left channel and Lillinger is heard in right channel) instead of two guitars. This thick carpet of drums and percussion provides a rich tapestry of rhythmic textures. Kalima plays atop the beat, using Young’s prototypical guitar elements while also employing open chords and other features. The result is soloing which breathes with self-autonomy, while never fully cancelling Young’s thematic foundation. Opening tune, “Zimtmadchen” (i.e., “Cinnamon Girl”) showcases the foursome’s intent. Here, one can discern Young’s music, but the ad-hoc performance gives a different insight to Young’s composition, like something identifiable which has not been examined closely before. When Kalima rides his solo into strange terrain, Götte holds onto the main riff and keeps things distinguishable. Despite free jazz tendencies, Die Glorreichen Sieben does not abandon Young’s folk and country tinges. An eight-minute rendering of “Heart of Gold” includes a ghostly, uncredited harmonica, and Kalima generally sustains Young’s signature guitar riffs and chords, slowly swerving into an uninhibited landscape.
An experimental nature permeates “After the Goldrush,” via coiling and unreeling brushwork and cymbal ticks and Kalima’s lightly warped guitar. Even so, anyone acquainted with the original will be able to name this piece. And the Nashville tang of “Ready for the Country” is abundantly engaged. This western-flavored number swings with verve, and is somewhat akin to Bill Frisell’s likeminded outings. This one is wild but entertaining. But the most untamed auditory trips belong to the bona-fide rockers. “Welt, Rocken” (better known as “Rockin’ in the Free World”) has a Sonic Youth-esque weirdness, replete with distorted effects, slashing guitar lines, feedback, expansive percussive noises and more, and is far from Young’s vision. “Like a Hurricane” meets halfway between traditionalism and avant-garde. There is an acoustic guitar intro with a banjo-like tone, and then electric guitar instills Young’s prominent riff, but about a minute later, the quartet freewheels into a contrasting course light years removed from Young’s tune, and stays there until the just before the end. If anyone sticks around past the concluding cut—an elegiac rendition of “Round and Round”—you’ll find a hidden track, an alternative version of “Words.” Buyer note: this is an import CD on Vogel’s own imprint, Boomslang. The minimal liner notes are mostly in German. However, there is a helpful online promo video, with English subtitles, where the members discuss their latest recording, how they formed, and what Young’s music means to them.
TrackList: Cinnamon Girl; Heart of Gold; Ready for the Country; After the Gold Rush; Words; Rockin’ in the Free World; Like a Hurricane; Round and Round.