Oh, the weight of names… If you were to make sustained, elongated caverns of (loosely) improv jazz that crawled slowly, mylodon-like into the half-light would you really a want a name as, well, evocative and descriptive as that? And would you want your PR paraphernalia to mention the name of Bohren and der Club of Gore, a band so aligned with a particular sound and ethos as to practically own it? No pressure then…
The Mount Fuji DoomJazz Corporation are the live improv wing of the Kilimanjaro Dark Jazz Ensemble (names, again!) featuring various of that project’s myriad number, including Gideon Kiers, Jason Köhnen, Charlotte Cegarra, Hilary Jeffery, Eelco Bosman, Nina Hitz, and Sarah Anderson. The Kilimanjaro project has produced two albums since its inception, albums that wander the ground between noir-ish Bohren-style down-tempo jazz to more beat-inspired meanderings, coming close to The Cinematic Orchestra’s more loop-based experiments in places. The Mount Fuji wing is born of infrequent live improv sessions, and is much more fractured as a result, with the jams stretching out towards some indefinable horizon. Succubus, released in 2009 could be said to have bridged the gap between the two styles, but Anthropomorphic is certainly more experimental, and genuinely odd in places – featuring stretched and tortured trombone sections and damaged electronics worthy of Helge Sten.
Due to the aforementioned infrequency of these live improv sessions, Anthropomorphic is really three pieces stitched together, and the three sections are defined by who was available at any given time. The first piece, recorded in Utrecht, features just Hilary Jeffery and Eelco Bosman, the former playing trombone – but a trombone placed at times under such intense pressure that it goes from sounding like a lone trumpet to resembling an angry swarm of bees – and the latter creating huge yet oddly sinuous waves of guitar drone. Despite this minimalist approach, the piece has a strong presence. Deep and almost tectonic in places, it holds the attention as an environment might; and the overall effect is tense and dramatic. The second piece, recorded in Wroclaw, is much sharper and more intrusive when it arrives, with warped electronics ripping through the drone textures, Gideon Kiers’s oscillators firing wildly. This is relatively short-lived however, and the piece returns to that low frequency hum, Jeffery’s bass rumble didgeridoo-like in places.
And it’s around this stage – forty minutes into an hour long record, mind – that what was dynamic and brooding is in danger of becoming something else: the attention is wavering, the themes becoming grating instead of involving. I appreciate that in its very essence, a doom record will always have this element of gruelling weight about it, but somehow, to me at least, this goes against the spirit of improv. To me, a strong facet of improv is the urge towards leaving out the obvious – here, at times, the obvious, set up in the earlier passages, tends to dominate. Given he’s namechecked, one wonders at the almost invisible nature of Ron Goris’s drums, so dominant on Succubus.
Problems aside, Anthropomorphic is an interesting and in places an involving and unsettling listen. Whether or not it ever escapes out from underneath the weight of that name is something you’ll have to decide.