Saturday, February 11, 2012

Blurred Ghosts: An EIC Dark Jazz (Mini) Feature

Blurred Ghosts: An EIC Dark Jazz (Mini) Feature

Prepare to pull back the red curtain and enter the smoke hazed cabaret of Dark Jazz. It's a place where saxes spill their distorted notes with despair, where ambience is the driving force, where chanteuses grace the stage, and where the shadows of fifties nightlife still linger, waiting to seduce and fascinate.

The origins of our strange cabaret date back over fifty years. We can look to early figures like Mal Waldron
– whose music hinted at melancholia and ambience – but Dark Jazz's founding architects are undeniably the musicians who brought their work out of the clubs and onto the movie screens. Two soundtracks in particular that come to mind are Duke Ellington's 'Anatomy of A Murder' (1959) and Miles Davis's Ascenseur 'Pour L'Échafaud' (1958). Ellington's accompaniment to Otto Preminger's courtroom crime drama may feature an orchestra bursting with color, but Ellington's wistful piano translates perfectly the film's tension and suspense. Davis's work with Louis Malle reflects a similar vision to that of Ellington, but teems with pure sorrow – a sorrow which critic Phil Johnson describes as "the model for sad-core music ever since. Hear it and weep."

Fifties American film scores, however much they may be heavily dipped in the scent of Blues, expose through sonic imagery the time's seamy underbelly. But as Jazz's connection to film fades, the curtain to our cabaret seems to have closed its doors. Not until the eighties do artists return to the genre's dark dimensions. As Post-Punk saxophonists like Tuxedomoon's Steven Brown's and Clock DVA's Charlie Collins dip their songs in a tank of Industrial decay, more and more being to catch onto Jazz's somber potential. No artist resurrected Dark Jazz more than David Lynch's musical bedfellow, Angelo Badalamenti. From the his first soundtrack on 'Blue Velvet' (1986), Badalamenti flawlessly inhabits the Lynchian world with low-register strings, seductive female vocals, and Jazz signatures that sound as if they're being pulled through a black hole. The composer's work for the cult phenomenon, 'Twin Peaks' (1990), however, reigns as Dark Jazz's defining album to this day. For the audience who turned in to witness the mystery unfolding before their eyes, the haunting music stretching in the background was an unforgettable illustration of Twin Peak's weird, shocking world.

Never again could the cabaret doors close once Badalamenti slammed them wide open. It's two decades later, and dozens of artists are still at work tackling the genre. Bohren & Der Club of Gore now make a “slow, easy listening version of Black Sabbath ” with bass-driven songs that throw you into an hypnotic trek through Germany's alleyways. The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble (TKDE) play with an unholy mixture of slow Jazz ballads, sensual vocals, and hazy beats to paint a soundtrack for imaginary films. Somewhere Off Jazz Street's sole member Buz Hendricks creates Jazz awash in a processed, mechanical aura by virtual instruments driven through a MIDI-keyboard. Dale Cooper Quartet & the Dictaphones even mixes electronics (samples, cuts, whitewashed drones) and acoustics (guitars, saxophones, trumpets, oboes, clarinets) to build a fragile card castle of flawless orchestration where every note evokes a fierce strangeness few artists can match. There's no doubt we are far from seeing the end of Dark Jazz.

Below is a selected discography of Dark Jazz-related albums. Three tips before listening: make sure it's past midnight, have your headphones ready, and close your eyes. Get ready for a journey you will never forget.

Selected Discography:
Miles Davis – Ascenseur Pour L'Échafaud (1958)
Duke Ellington – Anatomy of A Murder (1959)
Angelo Badalamenti – Blue Velvet (1986), Twin Peaks (1990)
Bohren & Der Club of Gore – Gore Motel (1994), Dolores (2008), Sunset Mission (2000)
The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble – The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble (2006), Live: I Forsee The Dark Ahead, If I Stay (2011)
The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation – Succubus (2009)
Dale Cooper Quartet & The Dictaphones – Parole De Navarre (2007), Metamanoir (2011)
Somewhere Off Jazz Street – Stories From Midnight (2008)
Heroin And Your Veins – Nausea (2009)

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