1. Mean Streets of Pyongyang 10:32
2. Gibberish Falter 4:36
3. Po’ Breef 6:17
4. Don Quixotic 7:37
5. Adrift 7:44
6. Amber Waves of Migraine 5:37
7. Pachinko Malice 5:10
8. Dreams from Our Dear Leader 3:20
9. Jack out the Kims 2:34
10. Slouching at the Savoy 2:24
Dennis Rea – el. guitar
Jay Jaskot – drums
Ryan Berg – bass
Bill Jones – trumpet
Thaddaeus Brophy – ac. guitar
Isaak Mills – bass clarinet (1, 5)
I’m not sure whether I should take IRON KIM STYLE (IKM from now on) as a new jazz rock combo or as a side project of Moraine, since two members of that Seattle-an band are here, too, one of whose, guitarist Dennis Rea, being a primary songwriter in both. It is enough to view its track listing to get an idea that the outfit’s self-titled debut release is at least a semi-concept one (about North Korea, to put it in a very generalized way), albeit it’s an all-instrumental affair.
Already a first listening to this musical material makes it clear that Dennis Rea is a versatile composer, who looks for variety in work, instead of following the creative routes he worked out previously. Save the fact that Moraine’s album “Manifest Density” and this one are both shoots of the jazz-rock genre tree, there is rather little in common between them. Only three of the ten tracks here, Po’ Breef, Dreams from Our Dear Leader and Slouching at the Savoy, originate from a jazz ‘cradle’, finding IKM being, well, on a conventional, clearly improvisational romp. Otherwise the band shows itself as composed of competent musicians in search of their originality – not only strictly within the jazz rock area. Disc opener, Mean Streets of Pyongyang (the longest track, it is also the richest in brass colorations), comes across as a 2-part suite, within the first half of which the band drives on the hard-n-rough jazz rock terrain, and then turns to the more restrained, yet still cerebral, fusion area, having effected the switch very naturally and effortlessly. The music is by and large original, albeit mid-‘70s King Crimson, Billy Cobham and Miles Davis can to some degree serve as reference points. Most of the core tracks, namely Gibberish Falter, Amber Waves of Migraine, Don Quixotic, Adrift and Pachinko Malice, have so much in common between them that they seem to form their own, quite solid, stylistic faction within the album, no matter that the first two of these are fairly dense throughout, and the other three aren’t immediately successful in achieving a full-band sound, at first appearing as something ethereally atmospheric. However, the music as such is in all cases basically slow and structurally steadfast, is emotionally saturated (full of drama) and generally meaningful, in all senses. All of this makes me realize that IKM has a distinctive flair for creating cohesive musical forms impromptu. (The album arrived without press kit, but I feel with my whole being that it was created at one sitting… or almost so.) While I find it difficult to give you a more intimate idea of this stuff, I will nonetheless try to do it – by providing you with what I see as a fairly suitable reference point. At least partly, all five of the pieces without exception remind me of a jazzier take on Frame by Frame (from King Crimson’s “Discipline”), only with trumpet on the one hand, and without vocals on the other. The alike dark, fast and aggressive Jack out the Kims has a distinct modern quality to it, bringing to mind Avant-Metal somewhere halfway between John Zorn’s “Execution Ground” and King Crimson’s “Vroom”. It would’ve been an excellent conclusion for the album, especially since the real final track, the aforementioned Slouching at the Savoy, appears as a makeweight. This one involves no other instruments but the trumpet and drums, and so the music is sonically dichromatic, additionally lacking in thematic variety.
Overall, “IKM” is one of the most original and interesting jazz-fusion (or rather jazz rock-related) creations I’ve heard this year. I’m only slightly disappointed with the three more conventional pieces, especially since without those, the album would have had a perfect duration (about 44 minutes) and would’ve been a complete masterwork. Anyhow, any true/open-minded jazz rock connoisseur will get a lot of pleasure while listening to it: Recommended.
The last couple of years have definitely been busy for veteran guitarist and composer Dennis Rea. After Moraine’s excellent 2009 debut, “Manifest Density”, in the first half of the current year he has been behind the release of a double whammy of albums that will delight fans of his distinctive style and musical vision – his first solo outing proper, “View from Chicheng Precipice” (to be reviewed soon), and this “Iron Kim Style”, recorded as a quintet that includes former Moraine drummer, Jay Jaskot. Not surprisingly, a Far Eastern theme connects both these albums, seen as Rea spent quite a few years in China and Taiwan. However, those looking for echoes of the Orient in the music of “Iron Kim Style” will be disappointed, because what is on offer here is a fascinating, totally improvised jazz-rock offering that sounds quite Western to these ears. Quite unexpectedly in a generally serious, highbrow context such as jazz-rock/fusion (and progressive rock in general), humour is the name of the game on “Iron Kim Style” – starting with the band’s name, which comes from a school of martial arts (cue the quote on the album’s inner sleeve, “Your boxing has no power”), but also hints at North Korea’s dynasty of dictators. Both the stylish album artwork and the track titles are a triumph of deadpan wit, with such examples as the supremely punny Jack out the Kims (referencing the iconic proto-punk song Kick out the Jams by Detroit band MC5), or Don Quixotic. Indeed, the whole album manages to poke fun at one of the most sinister, secretive countries in the world without descending into outright contempt. Though Iron Kim Style sounds rather different from Moraine, neither quintet employs keyboards, a frequently prominent feature of the classic jazz-rock sound. Here, instead, we have Dennis Rea’s electric guitar, capable of gentleness and aggression in the space of a few minutes, seamlessly supported by Thaddaeus Brophy’s acoustic one. This implies a distinctly more atmospheric approach to the music, characterized by an appealing sense of looseness that occasionally comes across as almost lazy. At any rate, this is not a tightly constructed sonic tapestry in the style of the likes of Mahavishnu Orchestra or Return to Forever, but rather something that aims to create moods and feelings in the listener in a similar fashion as some compositions by Miles Davis or Weather Report. Opener Mean Streets of Pyongyang (at 10 minutes the longest track on the album) perfectly embodies the two coexisting souls of “Iron Kim Style”. The quieter, more relaxed feel is represented by its overall easy, sauntering pace, in which the instruments at times blend together, at others seem to emote independently of each other, though without ever sounding patchy. On the other hand, bursts of almost manic energy occur through the often forceful interventions of the trumpet and clarinet, as well as the inventive drumming patterns. A strong ambient component runs though the central part of the album – though, obviously, not in the sense of what often passes as ‘ambient’ these days. A fitting term of comparison would be King Crimson’s more atmospheric pieces, such as The Sheltering Sky or Sartori in Tangier. Beginning with the sparse yet fluid Don Quixotic, in which all the instruments take turns in emerging and then slowly subsiding, the section culminates with the aptly-titled Adrift, a mesmerizingly slo-mo affair led by Rea’s gentle, melodic guitar underpinned by a neat bass line, and then gradually replaced by trumpet and clarinet. Amber Waves of Migraine keeps up the meditative mood, with guitar and trumpet playing almost in parallel, though with a slightly less melodic flow – here, too, fitting the title to a T. Along similar lines, Dreams from Our Dear Leader is made up of gentle, sparse guitar licks and mournful trumpet, though hints of a slightly disquieting element lurk in the occasional discordant sounds uttered by bass and guitar. Conversely, a kind of creative chaos, though never jarring or unpleasant, surfaces in the funky Gibberish Falter, the brisk, exhilarating free-jazz workout Pachinko Malice, and fully unfolds in the King-Crimson-on-steroids, 2-minute aural assault of Jack out the Kims – a number fully deserving of the punk-jazz tag. The album is wrapped up by the quirky Slouching at the Savoy, a short piece in which drums and trumpet interact at a slow, measured pace. In spite of the totally impromptu nature of the album (recorded over just two sessions), the feeling of looseness that I have often mentioned does not imply a lack of coordination between the instruments, which in fact sound uncannily in synch with each other – something that comes from having played together for a long time. Moreover, a clear internal logic is detectable even in the most chaotic numbers. Though “Iron Kim Style” is definitely not easy background music (unless you want to miss most of the intriguing stuff going on in its nearly 56 minutes), it makes for a challenging yet rewarding listen.
Fans of jazz-rock played with plenty of chops, as well as emotion and humour, will be delighted by “Iron Kim Style”, whose improvisational nature is an added bonus in a context where exasperated technical perfectionism can all too often impart a feeling of cold detachment to a recording. Definitely one of the most interesting releases of the year so far.