[7 September 2008]
Minilogue can now lay claim to having a hand in two of the best albums released this year. First off, there was their double-disc odyssey into minimal ambient techno bliss, Animals. And now is a collaboration with Australian jazz musicians Ian Chaplin and Philip Rex, Sebastian Mullaert and Marcus Henriksson called Bring Out the IMPS, a dubbed out excursion into groove and improvisation.
You’d be forgiven for the instinct to run away at the sound of the description “jazz musicians collaborate with techno band.” After all, history hasn’t been so kind to such fusions, and why should it work after all? Minilogue are masters of the minimal groove, which relies more on repetition and gradually unfolding effects than avant garde improvisation, whereas most jazz musicians are wont to scoff at the concept of such locked reliance on sequencing. On Bring, both sides of this collaborative equation get their way, as solid, mostly slowed-down techno grooves provide a firm, dubby foundation for blissful Rhodes melodies and earthy double bass.
IMPS creep up out of their shell on the opener, “Second Track” (get it?). A scratchy lock-groove sounding drum loop swaggers about, while keyboard chord stabs and high-pitched synth meandering enjoy a little conversation, perhaps over tea. Chaplin’s hushed soprano sax oscillates and wheezes, and Minilogue, in a show of dedication to the improvisational nature of the group, deconstruct the beat with a series of garbled short delays. This build of percussive pitches and echoes is the centerpiece of the second half of “Second Track”. Things appear to be going more techno on numbers like “Uncle Limps (Turkish Version)”, much of which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Animals. It’s to Rex’s credit that his electric bass is funky while being able to wander a bit, while Chaplin’s keyboard (a highlight on the album) once again tells its story, before being wah’d out in the final two minutes of the piece.
Bring was recorded in almost exclusively live takes. This energy and nervousness is palatable on “Get A Grip”, where stabbing saxophone trills and mode-traversing keyboards constantly threaten to break down. This tension between anarchy and brilliance frames the best avant garde jazz, and it’s clear that Minilogue are being pushed in new directions by Chaplin and Rex. Likewise, it has to be refreshing for two jazz improvisers to play over such rigid, complex rhythm locks. Things go more ambient on “Bubble And Squeak”, in which a beat is relegated to hushed blocks. “Bubble” is a prime showcase for Chaplin’s sax, played effervescently through what must be rows upon rows of effects (the press release references “shitloads of toys” in the studio during the creation of Bring). Rex is the star on “Lost in Röstånga”, a lazy, electric bass-led Western sunset with sparse hums and steely guitar, also from Rex. It’s a testament to the simultaneous eclecticism and consistency of the album that each artist has enough room to breathe, without venturing too far outside the scope of the project.
Perhaps most importantly, Bring Out the IMPS sounds like a joy to make. It’s almost impossible to get through tracks like “Almost Live But Definitely Plugged” or “Bring Out the Imps” without grinning a little. That such a privately enjoyable jam session translates so well to a studio record is just icing, all to the listener’s benefit.