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Astro Can Caravan - Questral Places  CD (album) cover

QUESTRAL PLACES

Astro Can Caravan

Jazz Rock/Fusion


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Guldbamsen
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4 stars Psychedelic Big Band Adventures

This Finnish band is a riveting take on something that began over 4 decades ago. Unlike a lot of fusion stuff roaming the airwaves at the moment, this particular brand of music is actually very rare - and I haven't personally come across anything of its kind since I miraculously bumped into Sun Ra's Lanquidity a little over a year ago.

Yep you heard me right: Sun Ra. Astro Can Caravan continue the big band jazz tradition like the old master himself, but with slightly ulterior motifs behind. Comprised of some 22 Finish musicians this act is everything but small scaled - be that in numbers or in scope. To some of us who know our fusion history, it's more than likely we draw parallels to the early 70s Centipede project which too sported a cast of several dozens of people - all attuned into the big sweaty jazz jam, but there the comparisons stop. This one is much closer to the original big band sound - you know the good ol' Duke Ellington, albeit with a big truckload of acid up its backside!

Piano, organ, accordion, bandoneón, euphonium, trombone, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, drums, trumpet, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, oboe, electric piano, synthesizer, guitar, mandolin, percussion, bass. These are all instruments featured on this their debut - and while that may seem like a lot - it does actually work wonders when meshed finely into one another - like some sort of tonal curry paste, that will have you reaching for the milk in no time. Oh yeah this one's got some real spice to it - that's for damn sure!

I get Sun Ra in the big band vibe - the way the musicians feel and swing together, like an enormous swarm of locusts. Then I get Guru Guru in the maniacal twists and turns and furthermore in the back where the drums thunder away with great booming authority. Add to this a certain muddy zooming electronic layer of synthesizers that sound like something out of a Řresund Space Collective outing. All in all it amounts to a wild and adventurous jazz rock excursion that more than often dips its toes in both the avant-garde as well as the more fusion flavoured Krautrock sound - reminding me somewhat of groups such as Exmagma, Guru Guru and Embryo.

You get highly infectious jazz grooves, that wouldn't feel out of place in a dark alley with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. in smooth black suits walking all funky and fresh to the bumping cool jazz vibe - smoke city style! Then you have the cosmic fusion tunes that play havoc with your mind - opening up Pandora's box of worming melting synthesizers and off kilter cacophonous free-jazz mantraing - cooked down to the most witchy of brews. These are filled with reeds that toot and writhe like they were auditioning for a spot on an Ornette Coleman record. It's wild and furious like a thunderstorm, but man I can dig it!

When you finally think you've got this album figured out, it spins around and gives to you the most beautiful, serene and sensuous of pieces called The Nile. This one is like a hazy dream experienced on a small fisher-boat on the river itself - chewing Khat leaves watching pink birds in flocks of a thousand shimmering over the murky waters - silhouetting the ground in huge stroboscopic lighting - mirroring the sounds of the flickering electronic piano and organ, that by now are serenading with each other like a pair of nightingales in heat. This one truly smoothes you right over - it feels gentle, oozing and loving, rubbing you down after the rambunctious ride of the preceding fusion mayhem.

Are you on the lookout for the heir-taker to Sun Ra's psychedelic big band adventures and have some money stashed away beneath your garden palm trees? Then I wholeheartedly suggest you dig them up with the power and might of a hundred sea-captains and go purchase this smashing modern jazz rock album in a jiffy. It is a mind blowing blast! 4.5 stars.

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Send comments to Guldbamsen (BETA) | Report this review (#756109)
Posted Monday, May 21, 2012 | Review Permalink
Neu!mann
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The unspoken stereotype of Scandinavian music is that Swedes are typically melancholy but Finns are clinically insane, and the existence of a band like Astro Can Caravan does nothing to disprove the latter.

In truth it's probably unfair to even call this a band at all. Consider them instead a loose collective of some two-dozen musicians, give or take a trumpet player (and without a vocalist in sight), playing the sort of brain-twisted Big Band Jazz never imagined by Duke Ellington or Count Basie. The experience is not unlike spinning a disc of vintage vinyl on your grandfather's old Vitrola and hearing distorted electric guitars, grungy organ runs, and primitive monophonic synthesizers in between the clarinets and saxophones. No crisp digital sheen here: the barely controlled anarchy was captured in glorious analog audio vérité.

A more obvious comparison would be to the kindred local spirits of the heavy-metal klezmer combo Alamaailman Vasarat, but with an even more unique musical perspective, spanning the decades from pre-war Palm Court swing to free-form hippie psychedelia to post-modern 21st century (schizoid) improvisation. The impression left by their debut album is that the ensemble entered the recording studio with a couple of finished compositions, and then filled the remainder of the CD on the spur of the moment. There's a nice balance of tightly arranged pieces (the tango-like "Helios Universal"; the Tropicana bounce of "Baia") with completely unstructured mayhem (the divided "Astral Movement" trilogy).

Sometimes they struggle to find a groove; often they don't even bother. Kudos to the group for throwing caution and convention to the wind when necessary. Sometimes the loudest music can be the most hypnotic, and even with their woodwinds and accordions the ACC orchestra achieves almost Post Rock noise levels on occasion. Trust me on this: Twenty-two musicians at full throttle can make one heck of a racket, especially when extended to sometimes transcendental lengths of unscripted cacophony.

Their collective enthusiasm, even when dialed back to the near ambient chill-out levels heard during the 10-plus minute album closer "Nile", can be dangerously contagious. It's hard not to be swept up in the joyful madness of this music, or to resist demanding entry into the same asylum.

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Send comments to Neu!mann (BETA) | Report this review (#918108)
Posted Saturday, February 23, 2013 | Review Permalink

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