It's rare for an album to quietly shake the foundation of what music is...and can be. Fifteen years after Jan Bang first innovated the concept of live sampling—turning an Akai MPC 3000 sampler into a true improvising instrument by sampling other musicians in real time and feeding processed musical ideas back; pushing and pulling the music just as any "conventional" musician does in a live context—he's finally released his first album under his own name, and it's a stunner. Filled with constructed soundscapes that may come from technology,....and poppies from Kandahar lives, breathes and feels organically, defying all misconceptions about the vast potential of electronic composition.
The idea of creating music using samples of existent writing may seem alien, and Bang's approach is distanced from usual concepts of form, constructing music from classical composers Richard Wagner (the dark-hued, foreboding "Heidigger's Silence") and Robert Schumann (the hauntingly beautiful "Abdication and Coronation," featuring trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær), and more contemporary sources including improvising trio Muta (the oblique, atmospheric opener, "The Drug Mule") and Germany's Kammerflimmer Kollektief (the groove-centric "Passport Control). But Bang's acute intuition and recollection—based on years of live performance, and access to music through an ever-widening network of musicians who want to participate in his groundbreaking work—give him a unique ability hear interrelationships across the distances of time and space.
The result is a piece like the sweeping "Passport Control," where Kammerflimmer Kolletktief's performance at the 2007 Punkt Festival is blended with a live remix from trumpeters Jon Hassell and Arve Henriksen later that same year, and additional new soundscaping from guitarist Eivind Aarset. Redolent of Hassell's own Fourth World Music, it still speaks decidedly of Bang's own sonic aesthetic, crossing multiple boundaries and featuring trace elements of late-'70s electric Miles Davis, hints of Middle Eastern tonality and a soft, sensual pulse creating the focal point for Bang's treatments, all leading to a coda reminiscent of Peter Gabriel's "Slow Marimbas," from Secret World Live (Geffen, 1994), filtered through Brian Eno's ambient excursions.
Largely constructed alone at his studio in Kristiansand Norway, Bang also reached out to artists including Lars Danielsson, whose double-bass is twisted and morphed throughout the achingly beautiful "Self Injury," also incorporating Henriksen's vulnerable trumpet and voice from a 2009 live performance. Most remarkable, however, is singer Sidsel Endresen's contribution to "The Midwife's Dilemma," where the unique, cell-driven style she's been honing for many years—heard in full force on Live Remixes, Vol. 1(Jazzland, 2008)—interacts with Bang's staggered rhythms; a unique combination of oblique melody, quirky, lyric-like articulation, and, ultimately, deep emotion.
It's difficult to position an album that breaks all its precedents through a compositional approach that blends live performance with the building blocks of pre-existing samples. As much as any conventional musician pulls music from the ether, so too does Bang on ....and poppies from Kandahar; a 45-minute travelogue of sound, shape, color and emotion that touches on the human condition with rare depth and keen perception.
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