Dell & Flügel: Superstructure
Laboratory Instinct

Burnt Friedman & Jaki Liebezeit: Secret Rhythms 2

Superstructure, the premiere collaboration between Institute for Improvisation Technology director Christopher Dell and Roman Flügel (aka Alter Ego, Acid Jesus, Soylent Green), draws upon so many styles during its 50-minute run—jazz, hip-hop, glitch, dub, techno—it's impossible to distill it down to a singular label; instead, it's better regarded as a poly-stylistic travelogue, with every cut offering a skewed slant on its chosen genres. While much of the album's sound is rooted in Flügel's electronics, it's Dell's vibraphone and Fender Rhodes playing that imbues the set with jazz flavour (check out his soulful vibes soloing on the driving strut “Study for a Skyscraper”). The duo's material veers between electronically-associated (“4 Door Body Cell” bolsters bright minimal techno with lashing handclaps) and jazz-related genres (the electric piano musings in “Wolkenbügel” recall Herbie Hancock's playing during Miles' Filles de Kilimanjaro period), though often both jointly appear; “Urban Practise,” for instance, pairs an odd-metered hip-hop pulse with an oblique vibes solo from Dell that would do Monk proud. While “Habitation”—sleepy country rhythms crossed with tinkles and glass orchestra tones—startles for sounding so unusual, the title cut works its magic more surreptitiously and stealthily. “Superstructure” layers the flickering pitter-patter of cymbals, bass exhalations, and whirring streams into a polyrhythmic mélange over which Dell's bright vibraphone tones softly dance.

Admittedly the combination doesn't always convince—the drum programming on “Miniaturisation,” for example, is deftly handled but doesn't match the indelible live feel a conventional drummer brings to similar improvisations with a soloing partner, and looping programmed beats behind a soloist only makes the lack more evident. But this is perhaps the only flaw on this otherwise strong collaboration. Though one sometimes hears traces of Jan Jelinek's influence (specifically Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records), Dell & Flügel's wide-ranging set generally succeeds in establishing its own credible and distinctive voice.

Even before putting on Secret Rhythms 2, we're sure about one thing: with long-time Can member and frequent Jah Wobble collaborator Jaki Liebezeit occupying the drummer's chair, there's clearly no need to worry about the possibility of dull 'rhythmning.' The tunes on this sequel to his and Burnt Friedman's 2002 outing, however, aren't hell-raisers but languorous atmospheres of nuance and mystery. Still, though the feel is loose, the songs are far from aimless; what in lesser hands might be noodling, here becomes compelling exploration. The duo treats their tunes and rhythms elastically, stretching them out to accommodate a guitar texture or melodica shading here and a vibes or clarinet theme there. The set's 'world music' ambiance emerges immediately in “Sikkerhed,” an African-flavoured folk-jazz march enriched by Hayden Chisholm's clarinet playing, while the dub style of Friedman's Nu Dub Players is revisited in “Fearer” and “Caracoles.” The album's also distinguished by David Sylvian's vocal appearance on “The Librarian,” his relaxed singing a natural complement to the others' similarly laid-back delivery (a different version appears on Snow Borne Sorrow, the Nine Horses album produced by Sylvian, Steve Jansen, and Friedman). Call Secret Rhythms 2 sophisticated mood music that, more 'invisibly' than Superstructure, merges electronics with acoustic instrumentation, even if the material clearly emphasizes the latter throughout.

February 2006