Among the numerous music journalist cliches I strive to avoid, “defies classification” ranks near the top of the list. As much as modern music listeners roll their eyes at genre tags, they’re objectively useful, and often times easy to apply even if you need a few to get the job done. Yet, with Kalvingrad, I found myself continuously tacking on new descriptors as the album progressed until I arrived at an amalgamation of words I’ve never thrown at a jass album before. For now, I’m comfortable labeling this as electroacoustic-jazz-rock-poetry…I guess. Honestly, this is an instance where I’d simply send a link to a select few of my friends with the message “Just listen now and thank me later.”
This speaks to just how talented Masche are as a group of improvisers and all-around experimental wizards. The Italian collective is comprised of a unique setup for a jazz ensemble which the members use to their advantage. Of course, the group enlists some traditional instrumental services, and they’re fortunate to have landed some phenomenal foundational support from drummer Diego Rosso and bassist Andrea Chiuni (who also provides vocals to the proceedings). On top of it all, the collective is rounded out by some truly exceptional performances from saxophonist Alessandro Cartolari on alto and baritone, Cristina Trotto Gatta on vocals and Valerio Zucca Paul manning the electronics and effects. To further the collective, self-sufficient spirit of the group, Cartolari and Paul recorded the band’s live performances, and Paul mixed the affair to produce Kalvingrad.
It’s a motley crew of performers for sure, yet they somehow pull together for one of the wildest and nearly indescribable jazz releases I’ve heard in quite some time. As one idea begins to develop, another takes over and leaves you scratching your head, which happens to be bobbing and swaying all the while. To start things off, Cartolari honks away on album opener “Still,” hinting toward a solid solo free jazz romp. But then the remainder of the band kicks in to produce a lurching beast decorated with oozing scales and an unsettling posture. The track falls somewhere between the cavernous sonic effects on Herbie Hancock‘s Sextant mixed with the aggressive jazz of a Peter Brötzmann, an odd meeting of the minds that ebbs and flows as much into jazzy territory as it does electronic music of the more electroacoustic variety. At the same time, evocative poetry from Gatta adds an even more unique flair to the record. Her delivery sounds like Fever Ray trying out her best Björk impression, which is indeed as bizarre and intriguing as it sounds.
Though the remainder of the album builds on this formula in a similar and equally satisfying way, I have to give another specific shoutout to “Grumi,” which is easily my favorite track. Thumping, distorted bass notes weave between Cartolari’s liberated sax playing and percussive accents from Rosso. Yet, Paul steals the show with the help of Gatta’s distinct vocals. He manipulates her vocals and glitches them a captivating manner, adding an almost catchy element to the track that’s instantly memorable from your first playthrough of the album. Paul steals the show further on “Desire,” which sees him molding the collective’s compositions into perhaps the closest we’ll get to “Autechre playing avant-garde jazz.”
Several paragraphs after I proclaimed Kalvingrad belied easy description, here I am summarizing a series of thoughts aimed at convincing you that Masche have something truly special going on here. As with many of my favorite jazz albums of the year, Kalvingrad seemingly came out of nowhere, and I instantly felt remorse for not finding this in time to include it with our last Jazz Month Quarterly for the Second quarter of the year. I suppose this standalone piece will suffice, but again, I still feel like I haven’t captured just how mentally stimulating Masche are for listeners of any jazz or electronic music background. They present an endless stream of ideas to absorb, and I couldn’t recommend their unique brand of electro-jazz any more highly. Avant-garde jazz fans should immediately press play below; trust me, you’ll thank me later.
Kalvingrad is available now and can be purchased from the Masche’s Bandcamp page.