The name Jan Bang is one that I’ve been coming across a lot in recent years in a variety of collaborative contexts. His live sampling featured on last year’s album by Jon Hassell, Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street, on Hamadaby Nils Petter-Molvaer, as well as the previous year’s Cartography by Arve Henriksen. He is also one half of the Punkt duo with Erik Honore, who record together and run the annual Punkt festival in Norway. All four of these musicians, as well as a number of the others who played on those albums, appear on Jan Bang’s excellent new solo albumAnd Poppies From Kandahar on David Sylvian’s samadhisound label.
Of course, given what Jan Bang does, he is a collaborator by nature. The album is part ensemble playing with Bang sampling and interacting with the other musicians in real time, and part construction using samples from other sources (as diverse as Richard Wagner and Kammerflimmer Kollektiff). Even the process of titling the tracks involved a significant other, this time David Sylvian himself. Those titles are explicit in their meaning, reflecting on the current situation in Afghanistan post invasion, musing on the drugs trade, on “liberation”, and on jihad. And yet on first appearances And Poppies From Kandahar has a stillness far removed from the turbulence you might be expecting, with no overt references to the situation in that country.
It begins with ominous drone and metallic boinks garnered from an album by the improvising trio Muta, re-purposed by Bang, while the following “Self Injury” raids a live Arve Henriksen performance for his trumpet and ever-astonishing falsetto. In this sense, it bears some relationship to Manafon, in which David Sylvian recontextualised sections of improvisations by Polwechsel and others. The samples are used in a different way elsewhere though. In “Passport Control” and “The Midwife’s Dilemma” they are repeated in inescapable fashion, a stressful drive on a road endlessly switching back as it climbs through the mountains. The former uses Kammerflimmer Kollektif’s “Gammler, Zen and Hihe Berge” (from Jinx), to provide the vast terrain, with flickers of guitar, field recordings, and other sounds processed to sound like the wail of an Arabic horn on top. The classical samples are treated differently – The Wagner in “Heidegger’s SIlence” is all but obliterated by desert wind and static (what is it with the Wagner love this year? First Indignant Senility, then this?), while the Schumann in “Abdication And Coronation” provides soft backing for one of the breathy trumpeters, in this case Molvaer, to let some mournful melody ring out on top. And Poppies From Kandahar closes with the third such trumpeter, Hassell, subsumed in swelling string drone, ending the album with typically muted emotion.
Given the musicians involved with the album, it is perhaps unsurprising that And Poppies From Kandahar sits neatly alongside those excellent recent works by Hassell and Henriksen. It is unafraid to let the listener do the work to explore its quiet spaces, making for a fascinating listening experience.
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