I don’t think there are enough seconds in every minute of every hour of everyday for me to listen to all the music that is out there that I will probably like and, that thought can occasionally upset me, I hate to think I may have missed out on some hidden gem that may have added a little enjoyment to my life or something even more profound. To that end, I trawl the internet forums and incessantly search sites like bandcamp and spotify looking for artists who may have released that next piece of nirvana for my listening pleasure.
And then there is the little ball of amazingness that founded and runs Lady Obscure Music Magazine, Nem, who always pulls the rabbit out of the hat and sends me amazing gems of musical beauty. You see, she knows me and my musical taste so well that I have never listened to one of her offerings and gone “what the hell did you ask me to review this for?” The email last week read “Would you review Djam Karet for me?” and, of course, I immediately said yes, despite the fact that I had never heard one note from this band in my life before.
Well, as it happens, Djam Karet have been around since 1984 and, I am still sat here wondering why I have never heard any of their material in all the years I have been listening to progressive music, especially as I don’t have tunnel vision when it comes to the varying sub-genres of prog, I will listen to just about everything once and always give it two coats of looking at.
Anyway, I digress, time for a history lesson, 30 years of history in fact! Djam Karet was founded in 1984 by guitarists Gayle Ellett and Mike Henderson, bassist Henry J. Osborne, and drummer Chuck Oken, Jr., all of whom remain in the band. They chose as the band’s name an Indonesian word (pronounced ‘jam care-RAY) that translates loosely as “elastic time”. Early Djam Karet was a proto-“jam band” whose live, improvisational performances on the southern California/LA area college circuit featured a free-form mixture of guitar-dominated instrumental rock and textural Eastern drone music, as in 1985’s cassette release, named with tongue firmly in cheek as ‘No Commercial Potential’. After releasing four further records the band dissolved as a quartet, a reduced duo released ‘Collaborator in1994 with a varied list of guest stars. The band reformed and signed to Cunieform Records at the end of the 20th Century, since then they have released numerous albums including A Night for Baku and Recollection Harvest and added electronic musician, Steve Roach to their line-up. Often called America’s greatest undiscovered band, 2014 sees the now quintet’s 30th anniversary and the release of Regenerator 3017 to add to the previous 16 full length albums and 24 minor releases that this prolific band have produced over the last 3 decades.
Being completely new to the band I had no idea what to expect but, after a shaky start, I have become immersed in their eclectic brand of instrumental progressive rock. I often say some of the best music I have ever heard does not gel with me on the first listen and, to be fair, it took quite a few listens before something clicked inside me with Djam Karet. It is at one time space rock, another post rock and all imbued with an experimental feel that is not for the faint hearted but, oh my friends it is, indeed, anathema to the bucket loads of dross that is considered to be chart music in this day and age, trippy and out there, yes, but, once the collection of notes, that at first seems somewhat haphazard then aligns with the sun or your collection of archaic symbols or you just actually hear them properly for the first time, everything makes perfect sense. The opening track Prince of the Inland Empire gives the album an initial free form jazz feel with a funky guitar note, spaced out organ sound and a bass note that is just so jazz-inspired that it should be wearing a crushed velvet suit. The guitar wanders off into what appears to be a blind alley but, it is just lulling you into a false sense of security, it is an acid-jazz fuelled trip back in time that could have come from the minds of The James Taylor Quartet if it wasn’t for the definite space rock edge to the intricate guitar work. If I didn’t know better, Living in the Future Past feels like it was the by product of a recording session that involved too many illegal substances. This is way out and downright wacky in places, mellotron fuelled and with a piano note that comes from a 70’s inspired San Francisco. It is a soundtrack to a time long passed, a homage to the open and improvised jam sessions where anything goes and, only just, stops itself from being too anarchic and abstract, I keep envisaging myself in bell-bottomed corduroys and Cuban heels with a purple polo neck and seriously bushy moustache.
Desert Varnish sees Djam Karet carrying on with the incredibly laid back vibe but starts to move in a more definitive prog direction, the ultra-cool keyboard that lulls you along combines with some delicate drumming and a tasty bassline to give the band’s music a life and definition of its own. There are jazz hooks and progressive steps and, there is even a hint of fusion thrown in the mix but I honestly feel I have not heard anything quite like this before and, it is at this point that things start to come together and flow in the same direction. The guitar takes on a searching tone, an intricate, clean and sophisticated note that anchors the whole sound. If the previous three tracks started out as jazz infused and worked their way towards a progressive sound then Wind Pillow is a product of that journey, stylish keyboards, lilting piano and space rock inspired organ have moved the whole track slap bang into the birth of progressive rock in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The effects laden and slightly distorted guitar is surely the work of a tortured genius and, yes folks, I now get this band entirely. The smoothly flowing keyboards and steady-away drums and bass back up that sweet guitar note with aplomb, my only gripe being that this track is criminally short, for God’s sake, why have I not heard of Djam Karet before?
The shortest track on the album is Lost Dreams and, it is entirely dreamlike in its composition and execution and has a building sense of cinematic wonderment that is aching to break free. On this song the guitar grabs centre stage and refuses to let go, the sorrowful, emotional solos that abound on this little gem of a track are achingly beautiful and are backed by a rhythm that screams Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin at me. It is for times like this that I started listening to music and I became a reviewer because everyone out there should be able to listen to music that burns into your soul and becomes part of you like Lost Dreams most definitely does. It doesn’t stop there, the emotional rollercoaster that Djam Karet have unleashed intensifies as the humbling beauty of Empty House takes what began with the previous track and intensifies it further. An amazing soundscape of fortitude and grace, this song epitomises the refinement and elegance that the band now bring to their musical delivery, a sound that ebbs and flows along the shores of musical brilliance, it is trancelike and pulls you into its embrace.
With On The Edge of the Moon we come to the end of this cornucopia of wondrous stories, the gentle, lulling piano note and delightful synth note is just the precursor to a lively rhythm section that lifts you up and carries you into the rest of the song, a song that is inhabited by soaring synthesisers and exquisite guitar playing, either in perfectly judged combination or when allowed to show their individual flair, it is masterful to listen to and almost artistic in its overall composition, this is music that has the weight of many years experience and love and it is returned in amazing splendour, I almost feel emotionally drained at the end and I feel joyous that I have had the privilege of listening to this eclectic album.
When I heard the first few notes of Regenerator 3017 I was intrigued but not overtly excited by what I had listened to but, as I got more immersed in this album and I let the silvery, sweet sounding delights that materialized wash over me in all their sonic brilliance, a light turned on in my conscience and I smiled a small grin of revelation. Regenerator 3017 needs a small amount of perseverance before you are open to its delights but, especially on the latter parts of the album, once you are, you will not look back.