Welcome to what’s surely the longest headline in the history of Aphoristic Album Reviews. Coincidentally, all three albums in this week’s review pile are collaborations between multiple artists. It’s a diverse week – Australian elder statesmen Nick Cave and Warren Ellis recorded the gorgeously ruminative Carnage. An 80-year-old jazz legend, an electronica artist in his mid-30s, and the world’s most recorded orchestra combine on Promises. Three African artists collaborate on the smooth Amapiano of RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE.
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
As this website is effectively one person trying to write about vast swathes of popular music, I often ignore the late-period catalogue of artists. Legendary artists like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen tend to enjoy massive acclaim for whatever they release. The groundswell behind Nick Cave’s recent releases, however, became so consistent that I checked in with Carnage, the first Cave record I’ve heard since 2004’s Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus. Cave comes from the town of Warracknabeal in rural Australia, but he’s carved out a place for himself in popular music – his work with the Bad Seeds make him the 12th highest ranked album artist of all time in the Acclaimed Music aggregator, close behind household names like The Beatles, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin.
Cave’s been prolific, with more than 40 years as a recording artist – an album with The Boys Next Door, three with The Birthday Party, seventeen with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and two with Grinderman. Carnage is Cave’s first studio album with long-term collaborator Warren Ellis – Ellis is also a member of the Bad Seeds and Grinderman, and the pair have previously recorded soundtracks. Cave’s style has aged well, with his stock in trade his baritone voice crooning literate lyrics about God and mortality.
There’s some feistiness on the bluesy ‘Old Time’, while the violence of ‘White Elephant’ recalls Cave’s fascination with gore in his earlier works. The cinematic balladry of the title track is much more typical of this project, focused on lush and luxurious ballads.
Every song on the back half of the record feels like a majestic album closer. The stately piano and strings of ‘Albuquerque’ are gorgeous, like a Jimmy Webb song. Ellis’ string arrangement is glorious on ‘Lavender Fields’, the perfect foil for Cave’s sonorous baritone. Cave’s one of the best lyricists in the popular music canon, and ‘Shattered Ground’ is gorgeous with “There’s a madness in her and a madness in me/And together it forms a kind of sanity.” ‘Balcony Man’ is the actual closer, and it’s suitably grandiose with its choral backdrop.
Clearly, I’ve erred in ignoring Cave’s last 15 years of work and I have some catching up to do.
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra
Floating Points is a Manchester-born electronic music producer. Pharaoh Sanders is an octogenarian jazz saxophonist who cut his teeth playing with John Coltrane on albums like Ascension – Ornette Coleman described Sanders as “probably the best tenor player in the world”. The London Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1904 and claims that they’re the most recorded orchestra in history. These representatives of three different genres come together on Promises – Sanders initiated the project after enjoying Floating Points’ work and requesting a collaboration. I’d classify the result as a jazz album, although it also has elements of minimalism and the term third stream describes crossovers between classical and jazz.
Often niche genres like jazz or metal are overlooked in the mainstream of critical discourse, but occasionally a record will jump onto the mainstream radar. Promises has become a consensus critical favourite this year, and it’s also reached #6 on the UK album charts. Writing about jazz is outside my scope – I can’t really do much more than compare it to Miles Davis’ 1969 masterpiece In A Silent Way, but there are better reference points from those more knowledgeable about jazz than me.
Promises is built around a gorgeous keyboard motif from Floating Points, played on harpsichord, synth, and piano. The piece builds toward the climactic ‘Movement 6’, where the strings take the central role. Sanders also contributes vocals to ‘Movement 4’.
I’m not qualified to rate Promises in the context of the free jazz spectrum of the last sixty years, but it’s a gorgeous record all the same.
DJ Maphorisa, Kabza De Small, and Tresor
RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE
Amapiano producers Kabza de Small and DJ Maphorisa, known as Scorpion Kings, pair up with South African vocalist Tresor on Rumble in the Jungle. Congolese-born Tresor has an intriguing back story as to how he ended up in South Africa:
Goma was ravaged by a volcano eruption and we lost everything in 2001. Lost both parents when I was 17 in 2003. My family was divided among relatives so we could survive. In 2007, I took a major leap of faith on my own and travelled throughout Africa by foot, car and train. I even crossed a crocodile-infested river and walked crazy African wild parks.Tresor Raziki, Instagram post
Rumble in the Jungle is 98 minutes long – most of the tracks ride their grooves over six or seven minute tracks. Without much stylistic variation it can drag, but there’s no real drop in quality – closer ‘Love Like a Weapon’ is one of the key cuts. The record is multi-lingual but often the African-language tracks are stronger, as they carry a mystique.
Tresor isn’t usually an Ampiano artist, but his smooth and flexible vocals work with the smooth backing – it makes sense that ‘Folosade’ is a tribute to Sade. The vocals are especially impressive on ‘La Vie Est Belle’, showing Tresor’s astounding range.
It’s long and lacking in variety to take in during on sitting, but the coupling of exquisite Amapiano production and Tresor’s remarkable voice throws up some magical moments.