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Djam Karet: The Heavy Soul Sessions

Wow, excuse me while I pick my jaw from off the floor! Having just listened to The Heavy Soul Sessions, the brand new release from Djam Karet, their fifteenth in total, I am left somewhat breathless to say the least.

Before we get to the songs first a little bit about this southern Californian band. They formed in 1984 by Gayle Ellett and Mike Henderson and have garnered a tremendous amount of respect within the progressive community over the years having been referred to as "America's greatest undiscovered band." I can attest to that as I have not heard much of their music before this album. They play a brand of instrumental progressive rock that while showcasing excellent musicianship never feels overly showy or too self-indulgent. My point being is these are songs first and foremost, not vehicles for excessive noodling. This album is well crafted and extremely well played with some poignantly beautiful moments. According to their website influences include King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and Ozric Tentacles and after listening to their latest CD for the third time I agree those bands are all solid reference points.

So, who exactly are Djam Karet? Besides the aforementioned Ellett (organ, analog and digital synths, Mellotron) and Henderson (electric guitars, ebow, effects) the rest of the band includes Aaron Kenyon (electric 5 string bass, effects), Mike Murray (electric guitars, ebow, effects) and Chuck Oken, jr. (drums, altered voices).

Now on to the songs. The album begins with "Hungry Ghost", heavy progressive rock at its finest. Some of the beginning riffs have a Grace Under Pressure-era Rush feel and the synth and organ play is excellent. There is also a ripping bass line coursing its way through before the music stops abruptly and crashing rhythms and a mellow bed of keys adds that much more drama and intensity.

"The Red Threaded Sexy Beast" is an amalgamation of two tracks from the 1982 release A Night For Baku - "The Red Thread" and "Sexy Beast". It opens with a heavy rock riff and organ line with nice guitar fills in between the rhythmic blasts. The guitar playing is fluid and done with feeling throughout the organ infested soundscapes. This is an ambitious song with stops and starts, thunderous rhythms and wonderful synths. The guitar/synth driven space-like section is followed by a softer part with muted synth noodling and textural backdrops that makes for a nice contrast of moods. I love how the band injects spacey jams and atmospheric ambience in many of these songs.

Ambient waves of sound begin the spacey "Consider Figure Three", a subtle approach that keeps the listener guessing what will come next. The muted guitar riffs in the background reminded me of "Run Like Hell" by Pink Floyd before softly sung female vocals and a talking voice sample enters the fold. The dark ambient textures continue before ending softly, the same way it began.

The beginning of "The Packing House" features calming guitar work with a melancholic tone and subtle waves of percussion. The song travels back and forth between gentle guitar and more intense space-like atmospheres. Later on, Mellotron can be heard in the background adding another layer to the already complex soundscape and the keyboard work is quite pretty at times. Near the song's end the tempo picks up and the band's playing absolutely cooks with intensity.

The only cover is the Richard Pinhas penned "Dedicated to K.C." originally found on his 1982 release L'Ethique where a backdrop of organ serves as a backdrop for some biting lead guitar. Eventually a heavy bass groove with a background of Mellotron and organ leads to a rousing synth solo. Anyone who likes space rock will surely gravitate towards this one.

"The Gypsy and the Hegemon" ends the album with more space driven goodness and although it ventures into early Floyd territory, Djam Karet really do have their own unique sound. I especially dig the chunky bass groove and some fierce guitar pyrotechnics that really ups the intensity level, in direct contrast to the atmospheric textures laid down by guitars and synths.

Ambitious and daring, Djam Karet have released an excellent album with The Heavy Soul Sessions. I urge anyone who has not heard this band to give them your undivided attention, they are that good.

Track Listing:
1. Hungry Ghost (8:32)
2. The Red Threaded Sexy Beast (12:41)
3. Consider Figure Three (9:44)
4. The Packing House (12:54)
5. Dedicated to K.C. (9:41)
6. The Gypsy and the Hegemon (10:54)

Added: January 31st 2011
Reviewer: Jon Neudorf
Related Link: Band's Official Site
Hits: 1923
Language: english

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