Angles & Elle-Kari with Strings – The Death of Kalypso (2024) [Official Digital Download 24bit/48kHz]

Angles & Elle-Kari with Strings – The Death of Kalypso (2024)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/48 kHz | Time – 01:04:44 minutes | 728 MB | Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz, Jazz
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Thanatosis Produktion

After eleven albums with a varying ensemble size, Martin Küchen’s Angles returns with The Death of Kalypso, its most ambitious statement to date: a jazz opera for our times. Joining forces with vocalist Elle-Kari and Angles pianist Alexander Zethson, who wrote the string arrangements and band notations, Küchen adds another volume to the band’s sizeable, yet coherent catalog, which merges infectious free jazz grooves with tumultuous emotional cadences that reflect both human and political concerns.

Musically, the project is rooted in Küchen’s urge to work with Sander and a string quartet. As is often the case recently, the pandemic – which Küchen refers to as “…that period when making music suddenly became this absurd, almost suspicious idea and polarization seemed to reach an all time-high” – provided the creative trigger. Starting with “Une certaine paix” (a special kind of peace) as a working title, Küchen provided Zethson with home-recorded demos, containing layers of saxophones, rhythmical ideas and, in some cases, the most basic ideas for the strings, recorded on a Casio-synth. Later, the band leader also sent both Zethson and Sander versions with vocals, to share his ideas about the relation between melodies and lyrics.

The foundation for the opera was laid in 2021. Except for “A Campaign of Tragedy” (which was devised around a decade ago), all the songs were created around the conception of the work as a whole. This “jazz opera” that was to become The Death of Kalypso was already present in Küchen’s mind when writing these songs. Occasionally, his personal life also seeped in: “Kalypso in Karlsbad, Haunted by Dreams” came to him in the hot summer of 2021, with the memory of his father’s recent passing still raging in his head.

The libretto was written from scratch in the summer of 2022, with a vague but strong idea about its content and direction. The ancient myth of Kalypso, expanded with some of Küchen’s trademark concerns, merged with a family tragedy. Zethson and Küchen worked on the opera, its instrumentation, arrangements and shape. After a mere three days of rehearsals, the band – an 8-piece Angles, Elle-Kari Sander and a string quartet – entered the studio with Niclas Lindström. Küchen, Sander (who also did some vocal overdubs in her home studio) and Zethson were all present during the multiple mixing sessions, while Lindström came up with several ideas that were incorporated into the mixes, particularly on “Fetus of Dawn”.

The result is a baffling tour de force, that Küchen refers to as “an archaic pantheon reflecting a self-indulgent, modern humanity”. Angles’ work has always been infused with indignation and sorrow (as well as some of the most spirited themes and arrangements in modern jazz), yet rarely has it been elaborated this extensively, covering the past and the present, myth and allegory, metaphor and reality. With Sander as a commanding high priestess, leading the 13-piece ensemble through the opera’s various guises, sizes and shapes, it becomes evident how intense the process of interpreting the melodies and lyrics must have been.

The libretto is densely packed with ideas, as it refers to the mythological figure of enchantress Kalypso, as well as Odysseus and Hermes, while offering new variations on familiar tropes such as human hubris, religion, war, family, love, legends, fantasy and fate. Combining different layers of time, moving from the ancient period to modern prison camps, humankind’s eternal struggle with the Gods (and attempt to become Gods) and the inevitable downfall, The Death of Kalypso is that rare exception that touches upon a myriad of things without becoming lost in them.

While previous Angles albums usually offered a few interpretations of earlier tunes as well as new compositions, the music on The Death of Kalypso stands on its own and is striking in its opulence. Previous recurring references – Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, Carla Bley’s Jazz Composers Orchestra and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra – might still apply, but there can be no mistake about the signature of Küchen, whose solo work often focuses on sparse intimacy and monochrome textures, but infuses Angles’ music with those trademark turbulent themes, exuberant grooves and lush melodies. Add to this the weight and elegance of Zethson’s iridescent string arrangements, and the sum is supremely immersive music that feels familiar and new at the same time.

From the sweeping grandeur of opener “Messieurs-dames”, the crushing emotionality of “Fetus of Dawn” and ebullient, nearly abrasive blowfest of “Cutting the Woods” to the breathtaking theatricality of “Kalypso in Karlsbad, Haunted by Dreams” and the many moments that will make you single out motifs, details, strings and other instruments; there is a fitting duality running through this vital magnum opus, merging the grandiose gestures of the Gods with humankind’s limitations. Soaring above it all while standing at its very center, is Elle-Kari Sander, a bewitching presence with the gravitas and commanding flexibility that a band like Angles demands. Ambitious plans require outsized capacities and that’s exactly what you get.

We’ll never learn. Words that stay relevant. Since the album’s completion, another war, another atrocious tragedy, has started in the Middle East. It would be a reduction to claim The Death Of Kalypso is (only) about war, but even with allegorical and personal layers present, it’s hard to avoid the message/warning this jazz opera contains. At the same time, it might provide solace, just like previous works in world literature and music provided us not only with a mirror, but with a key to that most valuable trait: compassion.

1-1. Angles – Messieurs-dames (stuck in the arching caverns of Hermes’ court) (06:14)
1-2. Angles – Une certaine paix (08:47)
1-3. Angles – A campaign of tragedy (String Quartet) (01:36)
1-4. Angles – Fetus of dawn (Kalypso talks to her son Nausithous and sings to the gods) (08:40)
1-5. Angles – A campaign of tragedy (Aria) (03:44)
1-6. Angles – Cutting the woods (05:24)
1-7. Angles – The caves of Ogygia I (01:57)
1-8. Angles – The caves of Ogygia II (01:53)
1-9. Angles – Kalypso in Karlsbad, haunted by dreams (09:17)
1-10. Angles – A campaign of tragedy (09:09)
1-11. Angles – Outro and ouverture (06:17)
1-12. Angles – The death of Kalypso (01:41)

Martin Küchen: composition, libretto, wind arrangements, additional percussions on Une certaine paix
Elle-Kari Sander: Vocal arrangements.
Alex Zethson: All string arrangements, plus wind arrangements on Kalypso in Karlsbad, and A campaign of tragedy.

Elle-Kari Sander: Vocals, backing vocals, additional trumpet, synth and glockenspiel.
Raed Yassin: Reading voice on Fetus of Dawn.

Angles: Magnus Broo, trumpet | Mats Äleklint, trombone | Johan Berthling, double bass | Konrad Agnas, drums | Mattias Ståhl, vibraphone/glockenspiel | Alex Zethson, piano/synth/Hammond organ | Fredrik Ljungkvist, baritone saxophone/clarinet | Martin Küchen, tenor/soprano saxophones.


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