Can - The Lost TapesCan - The Lost Tapes
Cellist and composer Fred Lonberg-Holm is a notable figure in the Chicago free jazz and improvised music scene, but he is also comfortable with more accessible pop/rock-leaning material, having played on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, for example. His quintet Seval perhaps is his meta-group, managing to draw from several disparate genres including jazz, pop, modern classical, acoustic folk, and free improvisation, forming a unique amalgam. Seval’s first album, I Know You, was not confined to genres, but the new, second album at hand, entitled 2, feels even less confined. One of the characteristics of the album is, for the most part, a lack of a steady beat; it’s as if the musicians were pouring out water from their instruments and letting it flow as it will. The album generally has a bright, clean sound with a pensive mood, although it is not without several difficult, murky moments.
Lonberg-Holm is joined by four Swedish performers: guitarist David Stackenäs, trumpeter Emil Strandberg, bassist Patric Thorman, and the Ethiopian-born vocalist Sofia Jernberg. The most striking element is Jernberg’s singing, which is clear and nimble, as demonstrated on “Details” with rapid scale runs; however, perfection is not always her aim, as heard on one long, sustained note on that song, not hiding her trembles as she runs out of breath. On “Light Brush,” each instrument seems to be on its own trajectory, with quick trumpet fluttering and hard-bowed cello, and Lonberg-Holm’s solo is stirring, going into the high registers. The album gets more daring as it progresses, with “Boredom Is Bliss” using drones, unsettling string rattles, and terrifying scream-simulations, and “Only One,” which features a rare moment with a bass vamp anchor, is pierced by some Yoko Ono-esque vocalizing from Jernberg. It’s easy to overlook Lonberg-Holm’s lyrics because Jernberg’s singing is often unusual, but “Revolution Song” is a bit conspicuously hippie-granola, featuring lyrics like “Ride bicycles, eat vegetables, be responsible” but also incorporating spontaneous free improv breakdowns. 2 is a rare, complicated mixture and also proof that the pop and avant-garde worlds can intersect successfully.
The Lost Tapes
Aficionados of Krautrock, the cheekily nicknamed genre covering adventurous German rock music from the late ‘60s and the following decade, collectively had a climax when it was revealed a few years ago that there was a huge stash of unlabeled tapes in storage containing unreleased material from the revered outfit Can. Audio restorers retrieved about 50 hours of audio from the mother lode, and this batch was whittled down to the best three hours worth for the 3-disc collection The Lost Tapes. The recordings span 1968 to 1977 and run the gamut, with music used for soundtracks, many tracks featuring the Black American vocalist Malcolm Mooney and the Japanese singer Damo Suzuki, alternate and live versions of familiar tracks, plus other odds and ends.
The sound quality is outstanding, largely because the band recorded directly to tape until 1974, forcing them to not depend on studio tinkering. Other collections have come before, including the excellent Mooney-era set Delay 1968 and the more diverse Unlimited Edition, but The Lost Tapes is the most sprawling compilation yet, with more than a few “out there” moments to absorb. Mooney’s singing style uses propulsive mantras on the simultaneously entrancing and maddening 10-minute “Waiting for the Streetcar,” and at other times, he’s downright disquieting, like on the troubling “When Darkness Comes.”
Fans will go nuts over a number of superb selections, like the genuinely thrilling “Millionenspiel” or the alternate-world funk of “Barnacles.” There are bits of familiar album tracks, like “Spoon” appearing on the track “Messer, Scissors, Fork and Light,” while the fascinating “Dead Pigeon Suite” begins with a vaguely non-western ethnology, particularly when the percussion kicks in, then with an abrupt, chilling shout, tears into a version of “Vitamin C” with ultra-tight and funky drumming from Jaki Liebezeit. Because of the familiarity and the inclusion of live material, The Lost Tapes can’t simply be chopped up and formed into, say, five new Can albums; there are plenty of fresh, unheard sounds here to satisfy devoted listeners, but also, it’s about providing insight into the band’s improvisation-based creative process.