The Kandinsky Effect
20 January, 2015 (Cuneiform)
By Josh Hughes
The first weeks of January bring in an eclectic group of albums. In the post-end of the year list craze, everyone jumps onto the first great album they can find of the next year to show off their musical prowess. For 2015, the frontrunner of this competition was likely Viet Cong’s excellent debut LP, but also included (but not limited to) Joey Bada$$, Sleater-Kinney, Panda Bear, and Lupe Fiasco. The exciting thing is that depending on how hard you dig, you can more easily locate some of the more obscure, equally (if not better) records of the season that become harder to find as the year goes on. And so I stumbled upon The Kandinsky Effect from the always eclectic Cuneiform records, and it turned out to be my favorite musical treat of the year thus far.
Composed of saxophone, bass, and drums, the trio forges a path between jazz classics and contemplative, moody grooves. Their third album, Somnambulist, riffs off equal parts Flying Lotus and Coltrane, and delivers calculated melody after melody with intertwining improvisation. Saxophonist Warren Walker takes much of the foreground, playing with a constantly hazy reverb to distract from the intense methodology of the album, because if Somnambulist sounds like anything, it sounds effortless. The rhythm section makes up more of the backbone, quietly shaping the compositions so that nothing comes across as forced, and everything comes across as precise. The first four songs provide the catchiest hooks, which come in and out of each song between freeform solos and shifts in groove. “Trits” delicately drifts around for two thirds of its playing time until triumphantly bringing together all three instruments, and opener “Colpachi Distress Signal” flirts with bell sounds and fuzzy, electronic bass, pacing itself to a climax evoking early Mogwai.
While the musicians are all clearly seasoned players, they understand when to dial back on simple rather than overly complex patterns. While a lesser band could make theatrical statements with the same material, Kandinsky Effect never come across as flashy or pompous and instead recall expressive art like the painter they’re named after. While a jazz band at heart, they admirably take inspiration from music far outside the generally accepted canon of instrumental jazz, and I get the feeling that they know the Aphex Twin discography nearly as well as Thelonious Monk’s.
The second half of the album, while doing away with the more vibrantly upbeat tracks like the title track, further explore jazz dynamics and odd time signatures. “Sad Fly” boasts a strong bassline while the melody endlessly drifts over increasingly rock influenced drumming, and “Sunbathing Manatee” stays drifting throughout its entirety. Whenever the music threatens to collapse into oblivion, a meditative saxophone solo draws you back in, showing the undeniable continuity between the premeditated and the spontaneous.
Rating: Loved It
Favorite Tracks: “Colpachi Distress Signal”, “Somnambulist”, “Flips”