Music review: The the Goran Kajfes Subtropic Arkestra

June 25, 2012

Considering that it was part of the Nordic Jazz Festival, the Goran Kajfes Subtropic Arkestra certainly rocked the house at Twins on Sunday night.

Not to say that the music wasn’t good. Most often, it was exhilarating. But a group of seven Swedish musicians clustered together on the small U Street stage, making a deafening blast of what more than anything resembled acid rock with horns, was unpredictable in a jazz venue. And within a jazz festival that is also featuring lyrical Norwegian saxophone soloist Hakon Kornstad (House of Sweden, Tuesday) and the atmospheric piano trio of Iceland’s Sunna Gunlaugsdottir (Twins, Saturday), it was a sharp left turn.

Trumpeter Kajfes led the band through seven tunes he did not name (although he did say they were from his latest recording, “X/Y”). Instead, they were distinguished by their stylistic mixes. The second number, for example, found drummer Johan Homegard and organist Robert Ostlund laying down a base of hard, fast, Jamed Brown-style funk, with the front line (Kajfes, tenor saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar and flutist Per “Rusktrask” Johansson) accentuating it with Afro-beat grooves. That, however, was broken up with slowed-down breaks of 1960s-era garage rock led by Ostlund and guitarist Andreas Soderstrom (the latter using a wah-wah pedal).

The third tune was a slow psychedelic meditation of long, mesmerizing notes, evocative of early Pink Floyd, and the sixth (which Kajfes attributed to German art-rock band Cluster) rode on an organ riff so sunny it was nearly bubble gum, a motorlike rhythm and, although it used jazzy chord progressions and phrases, a joyful singsong melody that could transfer easily to a contemporary pop-rock song.

Throughout all these shifts, there were enough common elements to let personal sounds emerge. The rhythmic work by Homegard and electric bassist Johan Berthling was always intense — thunderous, in fact, with Kajfes sometimes augmenting it with furious tambourine or maraca. Soderstrom’s wah-wah lent a choppy feel to his guitar playing, betraying a stealthy rhythmic sensibility. Most consistent, however, was Kajfes’s assertive trumpet, which could go from flowing melody in the first tune to clambering free-form in the fifth, but always a suggested flamenco sound with its slight vibrato and nasal cry. The septet was a polished ensemble and had great chemistry, but the individual voices are what stood out from the gloriously rocking assault on the ears.


Trumpet player Goran Kajfes. (Camilla Lindqvist/Embassy of Sweden)

West is a freelance writer.

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