X/Y Goran Kajfeš

July 5, 2011

the Milk Factory

Goran Kajfeš’s third album, his first released in the UK, is well and truly a game of two halves. On one side, X is a cheerful cinematic jazz album fueled by beautiful Eastern European melodies and instrumentation which stretches all the way to North Africa, the Middle East and beyond. On the other, Y is an introspective cinematic jazz album served by warm electronic textures upon which Kajfeš’s solitary trumpet builds wonderful dreamy sequences.

Born of Croatian parents, both pianists, Kajfeš grew up in Sweden. After developing a taste for classical music and learning the trumpet during his formative years, he turned to jazz as he reached adulthood. Since, he has performed with an impressive number of musicians and artists of international stature, from Lester Bowie or Stina Nordenstram to Eagle-Eye Cherry, Robyn or José Gonzales. He is also a permanent member of jazz quintet Oddjob, with whom he has released five albums in eight years. He first ventured out as a solo performer back in 2001 with his debut album, Home, which was followed three years later with Headspin.

X/Y is a particularly ambitious project. Not only does Kajfeš expose two very different sides of his music persona, but the two CDs come in a beautiful artbook format, with one half of the book dedicated to each album and featuring art created specifically for the project. As the most eclectic side of this endeavour, the art for X was created by a number of visual artists using a variety of techniques (collage, photography, ink on paper, coffee on linen canvas…) each illustrating one composition. Reflecting the more introspective nature of Y, all the visual aspect of the second album was created by photograph artist Carl Kleiner, whose pictures of alien instruments are as fascinating as the music itself.

Musically, X is a rich melting pot of flavours and ambiences relentlessly driven by Kajfeš and his Subtropical Arkestra, from the strong sixties psychedelia of opening track Sand Boogie, which could have almost served as an alternative opening title for The Prisoner, or the Morricone-esque reworking of Don Cherry’s Solidarity, an effort at times reminiscent of Jono El Grande, to the oriental influences on Solar Still, Sarasvati and Subtropics/Kankani Boulila, expressed in radically different ways, the first a rather subtle piece infused with tabla and arabic guitar motifs, the second a more hypnotic and progressive composition, once again propelled by tabla, confronted here with more conventional drums, the third a particularly dynamic psyche-pop moment over which Moroccan gwana star Majib Bekkas reigns supreme. Only 39 Degrees, the closing piece on this first album, appears slightly at odds with the rest, its resolutely more electronic textures providing a delicate backdrop for cascading flute motifs and shimmering guitar textures.

This is however no preparation for the much barer soundscapes of Y. While X took a couple of years of gestation, Y was composed and recorded in just two weeks, and the only personnel involved were David Österberg on electronics and Kajfeš on trumpet. The much more minimal aspect of this second record occasionally evokes some of Kajfeš’s Scandinavian jazz counterparts, but the extreme approach adopted here sets him on a pretty unique course. Against looped patterns and cold electronics, the trumpet appears much more in focus, at times developing into an almost mystical component, on Perfect Temperature For Leaving Home Pt. 4, or a wonderfully delicate emotional spectrum (Pt. 9), while at others, the pair flirt with Musique Concrète (Pt. 5 and 6), placing the instrument in sharp contrast to its alien environment, or with Kosmische forms (Pt. 1, 2 and 7), wrapping the warm acoustic textures in equally lush and rich electronics.

With this double-edged album, Kajfeš positions himself away from the experimental Scandinavian scene, yet he also displays very strong links to it. Placed so close, his dichotomy is totally fascinating to observe and makes of X/Y a very unique record. While these two albums function perfectly well separated, it is when played as one that they become a truly enthralling listening experience.