Babel Jazz: Marcin Malinowski’s eConnection – Yakamoz Review
Music has the power to bring people together – bonding over a common cause, in a heat of sweat and passion, heart and intellectualism. Like Math, music could be considered the universal language. It doesn’t matter where you are coming from, or where you are going. What matters is that we’re here, now, so let’s rock it for all it’s worth.
More so than nearly every genre, Jazz in particular is about connection, and intimacy – about similarities and differences. Listening is its central tenet, as is heart, and soul, and groove, and any number of soft sciences that are difficult to define, but immediately recognizable, when you hear it. Jazz is egalitarian, giving spotlight to the drummer, the bassist, the keys and horns – everyone gets their chance to speak, like some abstract conch shell being passed, from player to player.
Jazz is in danger, however, succumbing to pastiche and the ivory tower, becoming a music for intellectuals, pocket theorists, and people wanting to tune out to the approximation of sophistication – a million miles from the blood, sweat, and tears of the Harlem Renaissance, where Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis and so many more sought to integrate European classicism, along with every shade and flavor of global music, with the complex, moving harmonic language and syncopations of jazz – essentially creating symphonies out of thin air.
There was a heat, a thrill, and a risk. The head met the heart, and it seemed, for a time, that jazz had something for everybody.
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
– The Book Of Genesis 11: 5 – 9; New Internation Version
According to the Year-End Nielson Report, however, jazz has become the least listened to genre in America. We are in danger of becoming disconnected; of losing the heart, the revolutionary spark and inherent democracy of jazz, not to mention the emphasis on skill and musicality that helps propel the musical vocabulary further.
Poland’s Marcin Malinowski does not believe it, has not given up hope. From his humble home, he has compiled a virtual super group of European jazz talent. Virtual, because they’re not in the same place at the same time.
Chances are, when you think of jazz records, you might picture a group of ’20s musicians, gathering around the bell of a phonograph, laying their hot 8s directly to wax. Or maybe a Harlem night club, in full swing, with sweat dripping off the walls, while hipsters hang from the chandeliers.
The musicians that made Yakamoz were never in the same room, while making the album. Malinowski would write the skeletal core of the songs, for Dutch percussionist Jeron de Rijk, Finnish guitarist Kai Kortella, Italian bassist Enrico Galetta, with guest spots from Mariusz Kozicki on trumpet and Deniz Atalay on guitar.
But is it Jazz?
Sort of. But not really. At least not entirely. I would describe the sound of eConnection as a kind of jazz/jam band/electro hybridization. First of all, the music seems through-composed, with not a lot of improvisation. It’s jazz-y, with swaying poly-rhythms, like the South American samba of “Delia’s Cake”, while also bringing to mind the organ-led jams of New York’s Medeski, Martin, And Wood, who are another band that pretty much plays straight jazz, with elements of other genres, like rock and electronica, which ended up getting them jammed into the jam band ghetto.
Instead of making hard and fast genre delineations, let’s return to Thelonius Monk’s comment, when asked whether or not he thought Sun Ra played jazz: “Yeah, but does it swing.”
Yakamoz DOES, indeed, swing, albeit in a rather mechanistic way. This is machine funk, through and through, as the sterling, quantized heart of digital software meets the sweet and sultry soul of jazz phrasing, like the smooth-but-stinging trumpet of “Mary In Space”.
This mechanization is one of the album’s only fault-lines, as Malinowski’s keyboards have the waft of the simulacrum about them. These pianos and pads are not, have never been, real; merely a clever amalgamation of code, designed to replicate. It’s one of the challenges facing every musician today, and particularly the indie ones. Everyone recording electronically uses some sort of virtual instruments – whether that’s due to lack of access of high ticket price gear, or lack of proper recording space – but the challenge is to make this code sound as real as possible.
I think 10 years ago, this would have been the deathknell for Malinowski, as there was no hew and cry for a resurgence of ’80s digi-jazz. After a decade of surfing the vaporwave, and a new found re-appreciation for ’80s exotica, like the cryptic Lewis Lamour, perhaps are ears are more understanding, more forgiving?
It’s worth the wade, however, as the musicianship is top notch, throughout. And things get really, really good on the album’s back half, which sound thoroughly modern. “Asena”‘s still got some drum machines, you can tell, but the music builds and layers in an interesting and attractive way, that is different from the call-and-response format of the earliest jazz, which is then festooned with swirling clouds of sound, that surround your ears like choirs of fog angels, while the guitar cries out, like burning electricity.
“Alien Love/Selvi” is just weird and wonderful, with swooning heart-swell strings, Indian percussion, and whispered, what sounds like French, vocals. It’s like a soundtrack for a noir romance/thriller, with a hint of horror, like The Maltese Falcon being hidden in the apartment from Roman Polanski‘s Repulsion. It’s smooth and atmospheric, soothing and sweet, while also being avant-garde, conjuring strange and wondrous imagery. I’d like to see eConnection follow this route more, on subsequent releases.
And last but not least, the 11:29 minute closer, “Odotus”, layers of wordless vocals, with Malinowski’s synths and ritualistic shaker percussion gradually being introduced. It’s a lovely lull to end on.
So let’s all come together, in the virtual room of Marcin Malinowski’s eConnection, and remember that, while we may be using different words, we’re all talking about the same things.
Marcin Malinowski FB
Marcin Malinowski Music
Yakamoz @ iTunes