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Land of Kush, "Against the Day"

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cover imageThis ensemble, named after a region of northern Africa located west of the Nile in ancient history, fuses jazz, rock and Middle Eastern traditional music to great effect (and never becomes tacky jazz fusion). The group is under the supervision of Sam Shalabi who, despite a large recorded output, has outdone himself on this album. Recruiting what seems like everyone in Montréal to play, what might have been a project too big to effectively handle has instead blossomed into the best album of the year so far.

 

Constellation

Land Of Kush - Against the Day

Judging an album by its cover is never a good idea and despite a gaudy luminous cover, the music on Against the Day is far from gaudy but it is luminous. Mixing Arabic influences with a jazz big band style group has made for a powerful album. The obvious influences here are Sun Ra and to a lesser extent John Coltrane but Shalabi’s own style (honed across many, many projects with most of them focussing on African and Middle Eastern styles) makes the jazz greats more spectres in the background rather than true points of reference as to how this all sounds. On “Iceland Spar” Shalabi and his group conjure up images of deserts and sandstorms (granted not images I would associate with Iceland!); the haunting strings and exotic motifs are fluid and malleable like a dune in the wind.

Elsewhere, the jazz comes out far stronger. Molly Sweeney’s smoky vocals on “Bilocations” are without doubt the centrepiece of Against the Day. She riffs on topics not exactly relevant to early civilisation but Shalabi states in the liner notes that this album is in dedication to Thomas Pynchon (the album’s titled borrowed from Pynchon’s novel of the same name) so the imagery makes more sense in that context. Taken together with the vibrant music, the song becomes psychedelic both in terms of style and in terms of being mind blowing. Several times I have had to stop what I am doing when listening to the album as this song comes on, it is remarkably captivating.

The title track is a frenzy of (whirl)wind instruments that sound like they belong on a classic 60s recording from Impulse! Records. The chaos of the piece suddenly bursts into a surging rhythm and escapes its free jazz trappings; the flowing music like a river and completely at odds with the arid, dry pieces that precede it. It floods out of the speakers and washes over me in a torrent. Sweeney’s vocals may be the centrepiece of the album but “Against the Day” is its life and soul.

I cannot sing Land of Kush’s praises enough, this is phenomenal album that ticks every single box for me. The recording is, as usual for Constellation, flawless. There is not a dud note to be found and even with nearly 30 musicians on board, not one of them sounds like a hollow session player. The only thing that could improve on it would for it to be at least twice as long but hopefully Shalabi does not just move on to another new project and does more with this. Undeniably Against the Day is one of the best albums of the year so far and is likely to stay high in my estimations for some time.

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Last Updated on Friday, 20 March 2009 02:51  


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