This eleventh album from Germany's Kammerflimmer Kollektief is not my first exposure to the project, but it did succeed in making me wonder why I have not been a passionate fan of their work before now. Admittedly, the idea of harmonium-driven free-form jazz/psychedelia is not quite my cup of tea on paper, which goes a long way towards explaining why I was so slow to embrace this project, yet the right execution can transform just about anything into gold and this foursome are extremely good at what they do. It also does not hurt that the Kammerflimmer gang have some intriguing and unusual inspirations, as they namecheck both Franz Mesmer and underheard German psychonauts The Cocoon in addition to the requisite nod to Can. Kammerflimmer Kollektief certainly assimilate those influences in a unique way though, as the best songs on Schemen sound like a killer post-rock/psych band blessed with an unusually great rhythm section and real talents for roiling guitar noise, simmering tension, and volcanic catharsis.
This unique and eclectic project was founded by guitarist Thomas Weber back in the late '90s and has had a somewhat fluid membership since, but it is safe to say Heike Aumüller significantly transformed its trajectory when she joined the fold in 2002, as she is responsible for both the band's unusual cover art and the even more unusual use of harmonium. Unsurprisingly, I encounter the harmonium a lot with drone music, as it lends itself to that aesthetic perfectly, but Aumüller generally uses it for more melodic purposes and clearly has no aversion to dissonance, as it sounds like she is beating her bandmates to death with an accordion in "Zweites Kapitel [ruckartig]" and "Fünftes Kapitel [kreuzweis]." While "Zweites Kapitel" is an endearingly explosive feast of scrabbling guitar noise, clattering free-form drumming, and tormented bow scrapes, the album's stronger pieces tend to be those which take a more simmering and sensuous approach.
The two major highlights are arguably "Drittes Kapitel [ungesagt, dann vergessen]" and "Sechstes Kapitel [herausgewunden]." In the former, a soulful slide guitar melody unfolds over an understated and almost sultry drum and double bass backdrop before unexpectedly exploding into a viscerally howling noise-guitar catharsis around the halfway point. In the latter, Weber's guitar sleepily slides around over a gently smoldering groove before drummer Christopher Brunner unleashes one hell of a free drumming tour de force. I suppose my praise of those two pieces suggests that Kammerflimmer Kollektief invariably propel themselves towards the expected free music freakout, but the reality is happily more compelling and sophisticated than that, as there are often some delightful psychotropic textures and vapor trails involved, as well as an effortlessly organic "hive mind" intuition for waxing and waning intensity. Aumüller's harmonium also adds an element of temporal dislocation to the mix, as its presence often feels beamed in from a previous century. The album's remaining pieces generally tend to be either too brief or too deconstructed to make the same deep impact as the highlights, but the shapeshifting opener "Erstes Kapitel [verschliffen]" certainly has some memorably trippy and intense moments and everything adds up to an impressively strong and distinctive whole. It is quite nice to hear musicians with legitimate jazz chops devoted to such a noisy, spacey, and psych-damaged vision.