Caligura by GuraRelease date: January 26, 2018
Label: Consouling Sounds / Silken Tofu
How? How have I missed Gura? This is a band that checks damn near all of my boxes, so I’m pretty baffled that they flew under my radar for so long. Still, learning is a life-long project, and thank god for that.
Caligura, their latest, is a wild album. I don’t mean that in some sort of Wayne’s World party on Garth type of fratboy retro-rock nonsense; no, this album is wild like a jungle. I’ve been listening to Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink’s excellent Schwarzwaldfahrt album recently (that’s the one where they wander around the forest with a tape deck and doing their free improvisational thing), and that seems like a strange sort of touchstone for approaching this album. Well, the whole free improvisational scene really does. The vocalist jabbers like a man possessed, wailing like Keiji Haino or a heavier version of Pirako Kuranai (from Suishou No Fune), and this forms a naturally contrapuntal relationship with the surprisingly smooth jazz saxophone.
Oh right. The jazz saxophone. Yes, re-reading that last paragraph, I realize that I haven’t exactly told you anything about what this band sounds like; I dropped a lot of names and called it heavy. For some people (well, people like me who avoid the light of the sun), that list of names would be enough. But let’s get down to brass tacks: structurally, this is a cool jazz combo. You have bass, vocals, drums, and saxophone. The nearly-scatted voice is a counterpart to the saxophone, the bass provides a nice solid foundation, and the drums are influenced by, if I had to guess, Philly Joe Jones (if someone from the band could tell me if I’m right with this guess, that’d be great). Except it is also nothing at all like that.
This is the metal/cool jazz combo that the world has always needed. The bass riffs pack a massive punch and probably stand a decent chance of blowing out your speakers if you aren’t careful. And the vocals are, yes, probably related to scat, but they are also feral, guttural, pained and all around awesome. The drumming, while clearly related to the jazz tradition, also rattles the low end with those excellent doomy cymbal splashes. And the saxophone? That’s a category of its own. Brötzmann seems like an obvious influence, but there’s a certain melodic lightness that recalls Albert Ayler or Sonny Simmons, more than the harsh tone that is often associated with the European free improvisational movement. This is the jazz album that you play for your friends who are really into Om, and this is the metal album that you play for your friends who are really into Bill Evans.
I think it’s almost a lost cause to talk about individual tracks for several reasons. First of all, this album forms a coherent whole, and to separate out the individual pieces seems like unnecessary amputation. Secondly, I kind of don’t want to spoil the ride for anyone who wants to take it. It’ll drop you in the deep end, and you just won’t be able to move for the duration of the album. In keeping with the jazz combo reading, you take your seat at the dimly lit bar, and you let the musicians play to salve your broken mind. However, I will say that the 12+ minute track ‘Eternal Black Gurgle’ is the single best song I’ve heard so far this year. The whole album is a masterpiece, though – one that I can easily see being in my top 10 list for the year. I can’t imagine anything edging out this beautiful idiosyncrasy. I will be returning to this album soon, and I hope you will to.