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Kammerflimmer Kollektief - Hysteria

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Artist: Kammerflimmer Kollektief

Album: Hysteria

Label: Quecksilber

Review date: Aug. 15, 2004

It would be rash and maybe altogether wrong to describe Kammerflimmer Kollektief as a free jazz group, but it's not too hard to think of an album like their debut, Hysteria, as a sort of gateway drug to the far-out pastures of that style. There's bleating saxophone and a rumbling double bass swirling about the mix, yet the undertone of the music is largely electronic, and often more continuous than, say, an Art Ensemble record. Kammerflimmer Kollektief (which is German for either "shimmering collective" or "ventral fibrillation group," depending on how you like your translations) don't seem to be about experimentation so much as about mood.

The best illustration of this priority is the album's title track, which might be the least hysterical piece of music ever recorded (OK, Eno has done calmer, but at least he was upfront about it). A soothing undercurrent of bass notes repeats while short-lived themes from other instruments pulse in and out – a skittering high-hat, faint strings, bursts of white-on-white noise, and shudders of other, barely recognizable things. "Engel Wacht" unfolds much the same way, with subtly building sounds swirling around a dark bassline. This patiently growing structure guides Hysteria's other songs as well, give or take some element: "Seen (Not Seen)" is reined in by lively jazz drumming and a six-minute drone instead of by double bass; "Du Siehst Hoch; Du Siehst 'Wolken'" capitalizes on its strings, and hints at a breakbeat.

As for what goes on above that expansion, the primary effect of so many sounds wandering in and out of focus is intriguing more than disorienting. Especially on the tracks held together by a bassline or drone, it's easy to get lost in reverie early, and glide along for the next several minutes with whatever images the noises suggest. It's not always as pleasant as that – the incredibly high-frequency noises and saxophone skronk can get irksome, and occasionally it does feel like an orchestra perpetually tuning, but even then the cumulative sense of it all is so deep that it's hard not to admire the thoroughness of the noise somehow.

Hysteria, which was originally released in 2001, would work as a follow-up to last year's Cicadidae; while Cicadidae plays up the drumming underused here, it also strays further from the rich bass melodies. What's more interesting is that the newest material, added on by Quecksilber for the rerelease, is that which seems most destined to be lost on those not already into traditional free jazz: the amorphous "Zikaden, Vielleicht" and the rambling 13-minute version of "Du Siehst Hoch" both are challenging pieces. But the original bulk of the album is wholly accessible and often enchanting, and may well move a few uninitiated listeners to branch out in the direction of Sun Ra's interstellar realms.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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