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Nakama, "Worst Generation"

cover imageFor their fourth album in a relatively short timespan, the Norwegian group (now a five piece) have produced their first fully improvised work, and it is a strange one. Besides the fact that the concept here is mostly just thematic, compared to the more composition-based ideas they have used on previous albums, the performances are bizarre and impossible to classify, sounding like nothing else they have done, and the record is all the stronger for it.


The theme is generations, of course, and the album is broken into five pieces reflecting the classifications of generations that historians have agreed upon.Playing with the idea of generations and how each is defined by its rudeness and perceived lack of respect to the one that preceded it, each subsequent piece here is longer, more commanding, and at times more abrasive.De facto leader Christian Meaas Svendsen’s bass is rarely a rhythmic instrument, Andreas Wildhagen's drums are more of a textural element, Adrian Løseth Waade's violin is usually a source of dissonant string scrapes, and new member Agnes Hvizdalek vocalizes more than sings.Other than the piano of Ayumi Tanaka, much of this album can be summarized as people playing their instruments incorrectly, which is an asset more than it is a liability.

Opening "The Lucky Few" lingers near silence for much of its duration.Indecipherable ambient noise is present, but hushed, and it is not until its closing minutes that the overt percussive knock from Wildhagen or sharp note from Waade, Tanaka, or Svendsen cuts through to make it clear that there are actual instruments being played.Once "Baby Boomers" begins, the noises are somewhat more up front, but still extremely bizarre.Skittering sounds, the occasional thud, chirp, or scraped string comes to the front, but never fully gels.During the few moments where the instrumentation is a bit more obvious, the final product sounds more like a jazz combo doing their take on the short lived glitch/lowercase music scene.

"Gen X" features a bit more conventionally played instrumentation as well, but used to generate low, menacing drones in contrast to anything more traditional sounding.There is more of a jazz feel to the piece, but it is riddled with tension and discomfort.Hvizdalek’s vocal improvisations vacillate from subtle to overt, keeping things quite off-kilter, with the only perceptibly conventional touchstone being Tanaka’s piano."Millienials" is more rhythmic, with Wildhagen leading the way from sputtering, clattering rhythms and eventually some sharp, sustained cymbal passages.Again, only the piano is immediately perceptible, and the quality of the recording is exceptional, capturing sounds that are almost alien despite their normal sources.

The concluding "Plurals" closes the album on an especially high note.Sputtering noises and scrapes are abundant, peppered with the occasional cricket-like chirp or rattling rhythm.Every once in awhile an obvious bit of voice, twanging bass string, or sharp drum hit will forcefully appear in the mix, then otherwise retreat into the weird mess of sound.At times the piece builds to some heavy, wonderfully pounding rhythmic outbursts, but overall it seems to build to a crescendo that never actually occurs.

With talk about how subsequent generations are rude and disrespectful to the ones that preceded them, I can hear Nakama engaging in a bit of playfulness to that end on Worst Generation.Namely, their approach to jazz (and music in general, really) completely abandons notions of tradition or structure, but in doing so they are carving out their own niche, and a strong one at that.Even without beard-stroking conceptual composition tactics, this album shows they can make excellent, if occasionally quite baffling, purely improvised music.