The Kandinsky Effect – Somnambulist [TrackList follows] – Cuneiform Rune 408, 47:51 [1/20/15] ****:
(Warren Walker – saxophone, effects; Gaël Petrina – bass, effects; Caleb Dolister – drums, percussion, producer)
Some artists don’t conform to expectations. The jazz trio known as the Kandinsky Effect is such an example. In my review of the threesome’s previous release, Synesthesia, I wrote this trio “is an accomplished band not because they implement electronics into jazz music, but rather for how they utilize electronic configurations to make their music radiate.” On the group’s third album, the 47-minute Somnambulist, (which is their second issued on the Cuneiform label), the Kandinsky Effect boldly builds and strengthens the intermingling of jazz with Petrina’s affection for electronic music (specifically IDM, or intelligent dance music, a subgenre of electronic music) and Dolister’s love of heavy rock bands like Meshuggah, to generate a musical synthesis which does not proceed where listeners may suppose it will go.
The first minute of opener “Copalchi Distress Signal,” (the title refers to a plant species found in Guatemala) is misleading to those unaware of the trio’s intentions. A low, synth-like bass line whirrs underneath a ringing, bell-like sound while electronic percussion stipples across the left and right channels. But then Walker swoops up from the surface to deliver a resolute and layered sax solo, and it becomes clear the Kandinsky Effect are part of the vanguard of modernistic jazz. While there is a progressive fusion at the forefront, the threesome maintains the essence of jazz through and through. Jazz is more pronounced, more straightforward, on the title track, which has a vibrant, colorful stance at odds with the tune’s dimly-delineated name. Walker’s phrases interestingly trail off, leaving small instances for electronic patterns to seep in, which imbue dream-like spaces between his notes. Petrina and Dolister’s propelling and off-kilter rhythm adds to the otherworldly atmosphere. This cut works well in live performances, which can be seen on an online concert video.
The Kandinsky Effect is an international ensemble. Walker is a former Californian now living in Paris, Petrina also calls France home, and Dolister now resides in New York City. Some pieces reflect time they have spent overseas. For instance, somberly-tinged “Tagzhout” was composed in Tagzhout, a Moroccan fishing/surfing village which Walker visited. “It was written on the day of Eid [Eid al-Adha], a religious holiday where everyone slaughters a goat in the street,” Walker explains. “To me the whole experience was very dark, and there was blood everywhere on the streets. On the days leading up to it people were driving with live goats tied to their [car] roofs…witnessing these things may have shaped this tune a little.” Indeed, this somewhat-solemn number permeates with deep red shades, mirroring the animal butchery Walker saw. Throughout, tension mounts, ebbs, lingers and adheres.
Unease also penetrates the IDM-flecked “Muji” (seemingly termed after the Japanese retail company which sells household and consumer goods noted for simple aesthetic looks and styles). The threesome craft a persevering pulse fronted by an electronic-glazed, lyrical melody. In some ways, this closing cut echoes the jazz/electronic mélange which pervades the opening tune, thus fashioning a bookend quality. Animals and insects are another recurring motif. The source for Dolister’s percussively intricate “Annabelle Chases a Bug,” comes from his remembrance of a cat in Nashville, Tennessee. His detailed, dynamic beat has a quietly subversive characteristic, a compelling rattle which displays his improvisational ability.
Another Dolister composition, “Sad Fly” was originally penned for a quirky animated film, and designated after a swarm of tiny insects which play sad music to deceive unwary travelers, killing them so they can feed on their corpses. Not a cheerful narrative. However, the version the Kandinsky Effect redoes on Somnambulist is not as downbeat as what was on the soundtrack, although Petrina, Walker and Dolister do foster a sense of foreboding. Petrina contributes the pulsing “Petit Loup,” (which is French for “little wolf”) which includes ambient aural pigmentations which interject a reverb to Walker’s sax lines, as Petrina supplies a lithe, ongoing bass line. Walker’s slowly striding “Sunbathing Manatee” has a steady, cinematic sentiment not far from Mark Isham or Brian Eno, which results in a cool, 21st-century jazz/ambient attribute.
The 12 tracks on Somnambulist illustrate the Kandinsky Effect has successfully conceived the band’s most cohesive music. “I feel like I had a clearer idea of what I was looking for in the sound of my compositions and how to approach writing for this group,” says Walker. More about this album and the band’s aims can be discovered on a three-minute, making-of promo video. From beginning to end, there is an impression of honing both sound and skill, of reaching refinement. The functional employment of electronics and organic acoustics are both compositionally and improvisationally precise and confident. The electronic tones (all three members furnish digital effects) are incessantly constant and always purposeful. Walker, Petrina and Dolister use technology to expand the tonal palette, rather than subjugate harmony and melody.
TrackList: Copalchi Distress Signal; Somnambulist; Petit Loup; Flips; Annabelle Chases a Bug; Trits; Koala; Chomsky; Tagzhout; Sadfly; Sunbathing Manatee; Muji.