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Kammerflimmer Kollektief

Absencen, the fifth document from this German electro-jazz ensemble, stands as their most ambitious, exultant recording to date. While previous endeavors similarly entailed imperceptible harmonic turns, quiet energy (by way of toneless blowing into the saxophone), and heart-on-sleeve ecstasy of exuberant electronics, Kammerflimmer Kollektief presently eschew the temptation to sand away their rough edges, flaunting a wily allusiveness and restless light touch that should elicit smiles.

"Lichterloh" is a suitable opening piece, the music's analytical propensities testing the ensemble's aspiration to organic coherence. The group successfully integrates taped electronic elements with acoustic instruments, making the electronics less crisp and cerebral, more emotional and vivid in their lyrical aspirations. While still supple and expressive, the electronics no longer act as a leveling-down device, souring the wayward trumpet and brewing a bland froth akin to much of the output from the morr music camp. Instead, Absencen's stew bubbles and boils in a fiery, rambunctious manner; trumpet and alto sax engage in stream-of-consciousness outpourings that follow no conventional narrative, seeming content to recognize their own emotion as the ultimate end.

And the moods are as fresh and fragrant as flowerbeds in spring. On "Shibboleth," airy single notes from a keyboard clash against crackling sheets of frostbitten electronics in a natural process that sounds like a submerged gamelan. Against this static backdrop, the temperature of a thin, slinky trumpet rises against shuffling percussion, taking on a fever that gradually spirals into a creaking cacophony of foundry sounds and meditative, metallic machine music. All the while, nuances of European hues emerge in the tracks' chord progression and predilection towards smoke-filled, melancholy moods, showing the compositions as concise, finely crafted exercises in which personal style and preference converse with the legacy of a collective European past.

Other tracks, like the folksy "Unstet," maintain an elegant restraint, telling a story yet suspending its moments. Strings lap like waves, repeatedly ebbing out into silence rather than escalating toward some climactic crest. Amid bells struck carefully, like cymbals in a ceremony, against an onslaught of snaking electronic cables and a string-stretching guitar motif, the composition evokes the cry of plovers crossing a starlit promontory. The simply titled "Matt" quickens the pulse with a hypnotic beat set beside a waltz of strings and horns. In a bout of deconstruction, the luminous sway of horns mingled with a European-hued string section yields to an electronic mangling that ruptures rhythm and dislocates all trace of organized beats, producing a series of sputtering noise collages like the disembodied voice track of a damaged colossal robot.

Such disparate compositional approaches enable the ensemble to display their versatility and interpretive skill in a variety of instrumental permutations. As it is, Absencen is a reminder of music's sustained, creative breadth.

by Max Schaefer

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