Tied + Tickled Trio: Aelita

Aelita announces a surprising change in direction for German group Tied & Tickled Trio (Caspar Brandner, Andreas Gerth, Markus and Micha Acher, Carl Oesterhelt), though not necessarily an unappealing one. The quasi-jazz style that characterized past albums like Observing Systems is gone; in its place are through-composed instrumentals devoid of the individual expression that comes with soloing. The new album's eight pieces are evocative, oft-ponderous chamber settings that seem tailor-made for a somber Eastern European film (the title track is, in fact, an homage to the first Russian science fiction film while the suitably funereal “Chlebnikov” is named after the poet of the Russian avant-garde who died of starvation in the 1920s). Synthesizers, vibraphones, and melodicas now occupy the front line, dark electronic clouds clutter the sky, and brass instruments are nowhere heard.

“Aelita 1,” a melancholy, neo-classical tapestry dominated by xylophone and bass, initiates the album and returns in miniature form two more times. The album springs to life with “Tamaghis” whose pairing of vibes, organ, and dub rhythms recalls Burnt Friedman & the Nu Dub Players' 2000 ~scape release Just Landed. At times, it seems as if the tension wrought by stylistic change is audible. It sounds, for example, like the rhythm section, the drummer in particular, is vainly struggling to break free of the band's self-imposed compositional constrictions in “A Rocket Debris Cloud Drifts.” Regardless of one's feelings about the directional shift, there's no disputing the elegant, chamber-like beauty of “Aelita 3” even if there's not a solo tenor sax anywhere to be heard.

June 2007