Jazz for Halloween

by delarue

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “free jazz?” Bleating saxophones? Thrashing drums? Guitar noodling? Trumpeters inhaling instead of blowing into their horns? Pianists lifting the lid and taking a toilet brush to the strings? Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio’s album Clustrophy sounds absolutely nothing like that. But it is creepy. It’s been out since last year (hence its appearance on this page rather than at NYMD’s more refined sister blog), and much of it makes a great Halloween soundtrack.

In all fairness, this isn’t exactly free jazz: “improvicompositional,” the buzzword du jour, perfectly describes what this album is all about. Where does the band hail from? Finland. What is their most notable characteristic? Seppo Kantonen’s synthesizer. That’s right: the machine that destroyed pop music in the 70s and 80s and has lately been resurrected by the spoiled brats of Bushwick and their chillwave also happens to be the main source of menace here – but in a very, very good way. The creepiness is alluded to but doesn’t creep in until the second track, an atmospheric piece that builds to an alarming 9/11 choir of devil’s chords. A little later on, Kantonen starts out with one of those 70s organ-with-no-sustain patches and mutates it slowly and methodically into a sepulchral, metallic timbre where he finally has to give up the rivulets and hit it hard because the notes are vanishing into thin air almost as soon as they’re born: iodine-131 jazz? Throughout the album, as Innanen notes, Kantonen’s ability to coax a vast spectrum of sounds out of his keys and use them all for potent effect is pretty amazing.

Elsewhere, the band swings, they bubble improvisationally both together and apart, they bustle like Mingus, they turn Gershwin’s Summertime into The Ardennes at Dawn (think after a nasty battle, smoke still rising) and when they finally go blaring and blasting at each other, there’s a comedic aspect to it. They understand that three duelling saxes (Innanen, Fredrik Ljungkvist and Daniel Erdmann) plus Joonas Riippa’s machine-gun drumming are a better recipe for tightly orchestrated vaudeville than for chaotic, macho posturing. There are parts here which are demanding, which will lose listeners leaning in hard to find the melody because there isn’t much, but there are also very direct moments and most of them are on the dark side. As Innanen says on the opening page of the extremely informative 25-page cd booklet (literally a history of the band, out now on Finnish label Tum Records):

In the darkness looking for the main switch
How many of us will it take to turn on the light?
Everyone has a chance but it might be hard
Lose your fears
See with your ears