Depending on how it’s executed, music (and instrumental music in particular) has the potential to be the most transportive mode of expression. Other mediums like film, literature, and art obviously have the ability to present rich, detailed worlds beyond our own. But music can offer a blank, endless canvas for listeners to fill in with the full extent of their imagination. Musicians lay the groundwork for narratives to take form, but the actual world building is the listener’s full responsibility.
Patchouli Blue is one of the most rich and rewarding examples of this experience I’ve heard in some time. There’s a reason the ambient dark jazz stylings of Bohren & der Club of Gore has garnered crossover appeal within heavy music circles. The trio of Christoph Clöser, Morten Gass, and Robin Rodenberg build complex, dense atmospheres and moods around a lounge and noir jazz foundation, something that shifts and evolves across every track on their ninth album. Through this process, Bohren paint vivid sonic portraits with plenty of empty canvas space for the listener’s mind to fill in the gaps.
Your interpretation of the album’s sonic equivalents will certainly vary. But for me, Patchouli Blue sounds like an alternate reality where David Lynch hired a supergroup comprised of Coil, Earth, Jan Garbarek, The Necks, and John Zorn‘s chamber ensembles to collaborate on a heavily jazz-themed soundtrack for Twin Peaks. It’s an odd comparison that’s emblematic of how much Bohren accomplishes with relatively sparse compositions.
The trio’s songwriting revolves primarily around the classic jazz lineup of saxophone, drums, piano, and bass, with electronic textures, organ, and vibraphone thrown into the mix with some regularity. Though simple in structure, the interplay between these instruments and the subtle but potent way the band creates atmosphere makes for an exceptionally layered, engrossing experience. Track after track, Bohren find new ways to make lounge and noir jazz tropes sound refreshed with new life and purpose.
The success of the album is truly a group effort, but Clöser’s contribution on sax is the key element that ties everything together. His whirring, elongated sax passages pierce through the dense compositions and offer just the right amount of energy and depth to help the listener develop their own sonic narrative. In essence, Clöser’s playing offers the lights and life of the dark, rainy city streets during the particular evening for which Patchouli Blue is providing the soundtrack. For me at least, Clöser serves as the narrator or neutral observer of the dark underbelly of city life that his bandmates are capturing with their own performances.
Yet, perhaps the greatest strength of Patchouli Blue is how expansive and open-ended its compositions are. There’s a narrative shrouded in mystery lying at the core of every track, built through some of the most subtle, clever compositions you’ll find in the world of dark jazz. Wherever your imagination takes you while you listen, Bohren have crafted an album that makes it worth taking several repeat trips through those winding sonic paths.
Patchouli Blue is available Jan. 24 via Ipecac Recordings.