Saturday, March 24, 2018

Music In The Air: A Few Words About The New Holger Czukay Box Set

Holger Czukay would have been 80 today. He died only a few months ago, likely while this superb box-set was being prepared. Cinema, out as of yesterday via Groenland, serves as a sort of exhaustive look at Czukay's work as a solo artist away from Can. It is superbly realized and breathtaking in its scope, spanning 5 records or discs, along with a DVD.

Disc 1 of Cinema opens with a brief, previously-unreleased piece before the epic "Canaxis" kicks off. More than twenty minutes of near-drone-rock, the cut, from the 1969 album of the same name, is progressive in the best sense of that word, the ebbs-and-flows of the tones of the track both soothing and challenging a listener. Elsewhere, on Disc 2, the compositions from 1979's Movies seem a touch more accessible, the lengthy "Oh Lord Give Us More Money" showcasing Czukay's bass skills, as well as ease at crafting a languid landscape of sound, while the classic "Persian Love" from the same album remains a spry touchstone of samples and electronic variations of what we'd call world music when I was younger.

On Disc 3 of Cinema there seems even more variety for a listener, with the pulsing title track from 1981's On The Way To The Peak Of Normal positively oozing out of the speakers, while "Witches Multiplication Table" brings a trace of fusion to things, the music, in typical Holger Czukay fashion, brushing up against so many genres than a writer is a bit adrift when trying to describe it. The far longer and intoxicating "Ode To Perfume" serves as a showcase of both Czukay's subtly-visionary approach to bass-playing and skillful ease as a composer. "How Much Are They?" from 1982's Full Circle LP with Jaki Liebezeit and Jah Wobble sounds like something from the glory days of the On-U-Sound label, the 3 musicians exploring rhythmic textures and sonic moods here with an ease that other players would never have with such material.

More cuts from that 1982 record spill-over onto the final disc here, with "Trench Warfare" being a standout, while 2 selections from 1987's Rome Remains Rome -- "Hey Baba Reebop and "Hit Hit Flop Flop" -- remaining bright, spry offerings even now, while another ("Music in the Air") suggests a more ambient approach from Czukay. Similarly, the numbers from 1991's Radio Wave Surfer, suggest a slight movement towards more mainstream material, with Holger Czukay here doing his part to join the then-surging alt-rock boom with the title cut. Still, the highlight of this disc of Cinema, and probably the box-set itself, is "Breath Taking", a previously-unreleased track from sessions for 2008's Second Life that sees Czukay collaborate with Stockhausen, his mentor who died the year prior. The track is full of undulating grace, and near-ambient textures, Holger Czukay taking us into new realms here, punctuated by sampled vocals and washes of keyboards.

One could listen to some of this -- like the New Wave-y and horn-laced "Cool in the Pool", for instance -- and try to pin Holger Czukay down to one genre. But it would be a wasted effort as the guy defied easy categorization. This is music that stands on its own outside of contemporary styles and trends. So much of what makes Cinema great is that the music varies so much, sometimes in the space of one disc or record in the set. The late Czukay was supremely talented, and his was a restive genius. For that reason, Cinema serves as a fitting tribute to his solo work, showcasing as it does the wild variety of styles found in his rich back-catalog.

More details on Cinema and Holger Czukay can be found on the Groenland website.

[Photo: Andrew Cotterill]