... And Poppies for Kandahar, Jan Bang’s first album under his own name, evokes a powerful sense of place – but it’s not a place you would recognize, or ever expect to find. A descendent of Jon Hassell’s “fourth world” concept, it sketches scenes of struggle and malice, in locales both primitive and urbane. As a producer, Bang stitches it together like a patchwork atlas and then makes the seams disappear: live recordings and studio constructions, old samples and new solos come together to form an exquisite whole.
Bang recruits a cast of collaborators from Norway and beyond, who will be familiar to anyone who’s followed his recent productions: trumpeter and vocalist Arve Henriksen, whose albums Cartography and Chiaroscuro were co-produced by Bang; the stunning vocalist Sidsel Endresen, whose captivating turn on “The Midwife’s Dilemma” grows out of a moan and a half-croak; and samadhisound founder David Sylvian, who wrote the titles for each piece and the album as a whole, setting these abstract scenes in a disruptive context.
This is music of the world, but it’s rooted in Kristiansand, Norway, Bang’s home and workplace. His musical career began in the late ‘80s, when he cut his first albums in a synth-and-vocals duo with Erik Honoré. By the ‘90s he was a producer of Norwegian pop acts, when pianist Bugge Wesseltoft invited him on stage with an improvising ensemble. “I had the idea of using musicians as ‘input’ to my sampler instead of vinyl,” recalls Bang. “We called it ‘live sampling.’ I found it appealing to work in a live situation with improvised music where things change at the blink of an eye … . I was able to work in past, present and future, according to what the other musicians were doing and how they reacted to what I was throwing back into the mix.”
Bang started writing the material for … And Poppies From Kandahar in January 2009. “As I often do, I started working on instrumentals which I then presented to the musician that I thought might benefit the track – not unlike the process of making the Cartography album with Arve. … I knew I wanted to write music that had references to my influences, but where I could use my own dialect. I wanted to work with both composition and improvisation on an equal level – using contrasting forms, different dimensions, randomness, parallel directions which weren’t necessarily meant to express anything specific other than to work within the frame of the piece itself.”
The sounds on … And Poppies From Kandahar come from the studio and the stage, close-mic’d instruments and field recordings, the clank of a bottle and the grandeur of an orchestra. Says Bang, “As a ‘samplist’ I collect sounds that may become useful in other situations. It´s much like collecting sand shells without knowing how to use them – just keeping them because of their pure beauty.”
The result transcends idiom or genre. A sample of guitarist Eivind Aarset clicks over humble handclaps on “The Midwife’s Dilemma”; trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær solos over a melody by Robert Schumann. “Self Injury” is a hybrid of live and studio tapes, where upright bass casts a pall over Arve Henriksen’s monastic falsetto. And “Passport Control” excerpts “Gammler Zen + Hohe Berge” by Germany’s Kammerflimmer Kollektief, marrying its urgent tempo to wary brass.
The conclusion, “Exile from Paradise,” is a performance of Sidsel Endresen’s “Undertow” that was taped at Punkt Festival 2008 – and that features Jon Hassell on trumpet. “To me, Jon is one of the most important philosophers of our time. I can hear his influence in a lot of peoples work, including my own.” Hassell’s solo, sweeping and pacifistic, blesses an unforgettable journey across borders and eras, from the fictional to the indescribable.
Tracklisting and MP3 samples may be accessed at