- As I found out last November there is far more to Jason Köhnen than crude sarcastic humour and blistering metal-referencing "dance" music. Though Bong-Ra may well be his more familiar alias, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble has been around for just as long. Initially conceived in 2000 with fellow Utrecht School of Arts graduate, Gideon Kiers, as a cinematic compositional project—writing new soundtracks for silent films like Nosferatu and Metropolis—by 2007 TKDE had grown into a seven-piece outfit, complete with live improv sibling The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation. Given away for free via their own digital label, I Forsee the Dark Ahead, If I Stay is an excellent introduction to those yet to discover this exceptional collective.
The album presents a series of tracks recorded from shows over the last five years, doubling as essentially a "best of" and insight into the live TKDE experience. Though piecing together components of previous concept albums, narrative is ultimately embedded in all of TKDE's work, which makes this as much a thematic soundtrack as Here Be Dragons or From the Stairwell. Köhnen admitted to disappearing into a "fantasy world" whenever he writes music—Bong-Ra stuff included—but it's through TKDE where the visual bedrock of his compositions are most potent. Each track alludes to its own melancholic tale, though what that is exactly is for you to decide. Here this is exemplified by the LP's sprawling closer, "The MacGuffin." Clocking in at over 15 minutes it depicts a saga in three parts, of a wandering figure—played by a wailing trumpet—grappling electronic demons across the pitchy moors of drone.
Despite the title, I Forsee the Dark Ahead, If I Stay isn't all bleak and full of dread. For the most part it is lyrical to achingly beautiful. "Black Wings" is jazz-infused post-rock bliss, again softly kissed with electronica to conjure a cross-pollination of say Explosions in The Sky with The Album Leaf—without the twinkles. "Adaptation of the Koto Song" is as upbeat as it gets with woozy keys that lead into a samba-like pattering of drums. Track six is in fact the assemblage of three songs, with "Senki Dala" borrowed from Venetian Snares' renowned Rossz Csillag Alatt Született album—the first time breakcore and classical music collided. And it is exactly this weaving of disparate threads, often in an unexpected and chaotic fashion, that make TKDE so fascinating. Compositions can—and do—traverse through multiple genres, as one would expect from a pooling of such eclectic backgrounds: the polar Bong-Ra and Telcosystems projects of its founders, coupled with free jazz, post-punk, drone, metal, funk, glam rock, and classical influences from its other five members. And yet, somehow, it works.
While TKDE are foremost a band, it's the little FX touches from Kiers and the group's vocalist Charlotte Cegarra that have tipped them into the electronic—albeit fiercely abstracted—arena, though really they are on an entire plane of their own. Take "Lobby," where Cegarra's smoky operatic voice has been synthesised into a ghoulishly plaintive cry that wafts amongst the instrumentation. Moves such as this litter the LP without ever taking away from its "organic" musicianship, nudging it instead into an eerie third dimension that is compellingly self-indulgent. But don't take my word for it; find out for yourself—it's free, what have you to lose?
03. Mists of Krakatoa
04. Adaptation of the Koto Song
05. Symmetry Of 6's
06. The Nothing Changes/Senki Dala/Embers
07. Black Wings
09. The MacGuffin