X/Y Goran Kajfeš

July 3, 2011


Best known for his work with the timewarp friendly Swedish band Oddjob, Croatian-born trumpeter Goran Kajfeš has released two solo albums during the last decade—on each of which he too has had one foot planted in retro ground and the other in more modern and electronica informed territory. Elements of Home (EMI Svenska, 2001) and Headspin (Headspin, 2005)—together with Oddjob's Ennio Morricone and Lalo Schrifin inspired Clint (ACT, 2010)—can be heard, along with a rainbow of other references, on the double album X/Y. It is, by a country mile, Kajfeš' most ambitious recording to date.

X/Y also embraces the world-jazz of multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry; the Ethio-jazz of keyboardist Mulatu Astatke; flamenco, Indian and Maghrebi infusions; Terry Riley-like layered, reiterative keyboards; and the raucous ensemble sound so memorably used by saxophonist Archie Shepp on his 1967 album Mama Too Tight (Impulse!)—much imitated since, but rarely so joyously as here. As catholic mixes go, this is positively papal. The whole glorious mess falls under the generic description psych-jazz, although Kajfeš' approach is largely trope-free.

With its electric guitars and keyboards—drenched in early 1970s jazz-rock textures—ostinatos, "ethnic" percussion and writhing horns, X/Y might equally well have been titled Big Fun, had not trumpeter Miles Davis already got there in 1972. For big fun, X/Y resoundingly is.

Each of the two discs has a distinct character. On X, Kajfeš fronts his 14-piece Subtropic Arkestra on a set of extrovert, loosely arranged, multi-cultural jams. On Y, a more delicate and soundscapey suite, he is heard only with keyboard/synthesizer player David Österberg. "I wanted to explore two territories at the same time," says Kajfeš. "One with a larger constellation featuring musicians from several traditions—not necessarily with myself as focal point—the other where my appetite for minimalism and electronics could be satisfied."

The Subtropic Arkestra includes, among its predominantly Swedish contingent, Oddjob saxophonist Per Johansson and guitarist Johan Lindström. Johansson, mainly heard on baritone, is paired with Jonas Kullhammar on tenor and bass saxophones; Lindström is one of three guitarists. From further afield come the Indian tabla player Suranjana Ghosh and Moroccan oudist Majid Bekkas (the second previously heard to great effect alongside another North European enthusiast for Maghrebi music, pianist Joachim Kuhn, on 2007's Kalimba and 2009's Out Of The Desert, both on ACT).

Echoes of Ethio-jazz run through several tracks, and are explicitly referenced in the themes and horn arrangements of "Sand Boogie" and "Dinner With Inner." Bekkas adds roughhewn, gnawa-rooted vocals to "Subtropics/Kankani Boulila," making for a more North African sound. "Solidarity (For Moki)" opens with Kajfeš' trumpet, spaghetti western style, evoking Miles Davis' Sketches Of Spain (Columbia, 1960), before the band joins in, flutes to the fore, for a lovely, layered reading of Don Cherry's tune. On all tracks but "Solar Still," a tabla, oud and acoustic bass feature, pretty much the entire, riotous ensemble is heard. X closes with the gentle, reflective "39 Degrees," which has a pronounced Terry Riley feel to the keyboards, and synthesized harp and koto providing glistening details. Cherry's is the only tune not written by Kajfeš.

On Y, Kajfeš' and Österberg take up the feel of "39 Degrees" and float with it over nine improvisations. An idea of the variety of textures to be heard is suggested by the array of keyboards: Oberheim, Doepfer and Roland synthesizers, Hammond L-100, Solina string ensemble, Reaktor ensemble, Fender Rhodes, and several more. Y has beauty and substance, and is much more than a knock-off bonus disc, but X is the biggest jewel of the two, and the one that shines brightest.

Finally, a word about the packaging, which is of a standard befitting the music. The two discs come in a sumptuous hardback book which contains full page, high quality reproductions of artworks by leading Scandinavian artists, one for (almost) each track. Moki Cherry's vibrant collage, "Lots Of Things Flying," reminiscent of the space-tribal cover of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969), is used, fittingly, for "Solidarity (For Moki)." If CDs are to survive the download age, it is imaginative, albeit relatively expensive, packaging such as this which will help them do so.

Chris May