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Baba Yaga - Collage CD (album) cover


Baba Yaga


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3 stars Mokscha medicine for the uninitiated

Comprised of former Krautrock entrepreneur Ingo Werner, who up until this album had been in charge of keys and synths for My Solid Ground, and the highly exotic skills of Iranian percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Nemat Darman - Baby Yaga employ a somewhat eclectic cocktail of Eastern raga like textures, space voyager synth surfaces and the odd funk jazz moments. How is that for a mixture?

Being a huge fan of Aldous Huxley - and perhaps an even bigger fan of his novel Island, I jumped on this mother like a starved duck would a burger bun. The reason behind my exuberance is the fact that the first cut's called Mokscha, and anybody who's read Island will know what that stands for. Let me just get all of you people up to speed real quickly. The story goes something like this: The male protagonist of the novel is hired by a giant faceless oil company to investigate the possibilities of acquiring a small island for the intent of drilling black gold. Unfortunately he capsizes his boat on his way to his destination - and washes up on the shore. He gets medical attention, fed, insight into a society completely different than what he has experienced in the west - relying on both science and the old Eastern teachings. He gets philosophy lessons from small children, learn about a culture that attends to everyone instead of the few at the top - and so forth. In short, just like Plato's The Republic and Thomas Moore's Utopia, Island is a modern day take on a man made utopian society. Mokscha is a fungal extract used much like the Indians of the rainforest do - that is to digest this holy liquid hoping to achieve a higher form of awareness, a higher sense of understanding. On Pala, as the Island is called, Mokscha is applied as a gateway experience to adulthood. It's an integral part of growing up - experiencing the magic of life and how all things are interconnected. Without revealing too much of the plot, I will say that the Mokscha medicine does play its part in the story - changing everything around it - including our "hero".

This first track drives forth on manic Eastern billabong rapids - with the hammering of the santur. For those of you who don't know: The santur is a trapezoid-box with 72 strings in it. The player has two "hammers" for lack of a better word, which he uses in the same manner a piano player would, although this perhaps is a much closer musical experience. And boy - let me tell you, this instrument is like a couple of mice on amphetamine running wildly over some kind of harpsichord - the sheer tempo is insane. I get all these pictures of snake charmer ceremonies and dancing elephants decorated in orange and purple colours. On top of this we get tablas and other such percussive ornamentations, but where things start to get intriguing for the Krauthead - is when the synthesizers wobble their way into the track. They sound like electronic orchestrated brooms sweeping an invisible floor - swuuiiish swuuiish. They have a way of fluttering around in the music without ever having to land on anything solid. In many ways, Mokscha is like a precursor to the modern day hip-hop battle, but instead of two rappers having a go at each other, here we are faced with oriental traditional music served savagely and raw - and these snaking creepy synthesizer wielded segments of pure melting sorcery. The track goes back and forth - back and forth, and I can easily picture the otherworldliness and ethereal bewilderment of a Mokscha trip running its course.

Second and last track is Wadia. Now I don't know if this is intentional, but I can't help but draw parallels between the Indian Wadia family, who are this huge ship manufacturers belonging to the most powerful of establishments in the country - and the aforementioned oil company of which our male protagonist represents. I might be wrong but even so - the music doesn't exactly diminish in quality for this reason - let alone evaporate in thin air. Wadia starts off even further to the east. I definitely hear more of a Chinese flavour in the raw naked piano melody. It's no more than simple chord runs and improvisational textures performed ethereally and with a serene feel to them that sort of reminds me of Popol Vuh's Florian Fricke, - BUT it sure is beautiful. The track suddenly shape-shifts, and we're treated to analogue synths, wah wahing fat bass lines coming straight out of a George Clinton project, jazz styled drumming - and kapow we're in fusion country! It's a welcome change from the contour less lands of the lone piano, but to this listener the bridge feels somewhat forced and pasted on.

If you've been looking for a cross breed of Star Wars laser beams and Indian ragas, Shaft funky fusion and Chinese piano Zen - then look no further. This album is as original as they come, and although it may combine its ingredients rather clumsily at times, I still relish the fact that I can put this album on, whenever I wish to travel to the far east on a windswept voyage of maniacal santurs and wobbly synthesizer brooms. 3.5 stars.

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Posted Sunday, March 4, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars How did Baba Yaga pass me by? Plain and simple, just like a lot of other truly obscure Krautrock. Mainly because the lack of reissue, the original LP on Cycle being very rare and expensive (as is the case for these kinds of albums). Collage (apparently their second release) consisted of Ingo Werner and Iranian-born Nemat Darman. "Mokscha" starts off with Netmat Darman exploring his Persian roots with the santoor (dulcimer common to Iran, it sounds similar to the Hungarian dulcimer called the cimbalom, or the Arab zither called the qanun, except of course, the qanun is plucked). Then droning synths from Ingo Werner, at first I thought I was hearing a didgeridoo (no didgeridoo was credited). The music is now in early Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, Popol Vuh (that is, the early electronic era) mode, the kind of tripped out Krautrock we all come to love. Sitar and santoor kick in again with that Indo/Persian crossover style, then going back to synths, created in a nice spacy manner with EMS Synthi A sound effects to go with. The only thing is I wished the santoor and sitar was more integrated with the synths, but I was so blown away by the santoor playing that I didn't care if it was unaccompanied. So many times if Krautrock groups wanted to explore Eastern styles, Indian seems to be the de facto style, many groups like Amon Duul II, Brainticket, Mythos and the likes had incorporated sitar into their music, so it's nice to see Persian influences for a change (although the Indian influence shows up when Nemat Darman plays sitar). When I hear this, I imagine those colorful stained glass patterns projecting on the floor of the Nasir al-Mulk mosque in Shiraz, Iran when the sun shines through. "Wadia" is a totally sticks strictly to Western styles here, even Nemat Darman sticks to a standard rock drum set here. Here the duo has much greater interaction. The piano intro makes me think of the piano part heard on Brainticket's Celestial Ocean, and I assumed that's where they were heading, but instead the go the space fusion route, a bit like a more relaxed, spacy version of Mahavishnu Orchestra. No surprise that electric pianos and clavinets dominate, with spacy synths and string synths, but tons of spacy passages that would be out of the question with John McLaughlin & Co. (besides Baba Yaga never touched a guitar here). This album just left my mind completely blown! I can't believe what I was hearing! It totally rivals the best stuff from the better known acts I have heard, and that's no joke. Sure the santoor and sitar passages may not be to everyone's liking, but I really enjoy them as much here as the Western side of things, so it's a complete win/win for me, because a lot of these East/West experiments don't always work, but in the hands of Nemet Darman and Ingo Werner, they succeed with flying colors. Incredible stuff that deserves a five star for me.
Report this review (#1686387)
Posted Saturday, January 28, 2017 | Review Permalink

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