Morphine: Cure for Pain

Rating: 10/10
Rated as: Album
Album Status
: Backdoor Classic
Released: 1993
Specific Genre: Alternative Rock, Jazz-Rock
Main Genre: Rock
Undertones
: Blues Rock
Label: Rykodisc

1 Dawna 2 Buena 3 I’m Free Now 4 All Wrong 5 Candy 6 A Head with Wings 7 In Spite of Me 8 Thursday 9 Cure for Pain 10 Mary Won’t You Call My Name? 11 Let’s Take a Trip Together 12 Sheila 13 Miles Davis‘ Funeral

I think it’s time for me to finally introduce you to the Buena Buena Buena Buena: Good good good!

If you missed Morphine, you missed out on a cultural branch and attitude connecting the defiantly subdued rebellion of the 1950s’ cool jazz with the brawling counterculture grandeur of rock. A fully developed band from the start, Morphine had cut out the curious niche of “low rock” with the mature jazz stylings of their debut Good, yet with their sophomore strike Cure for Pain they created an instant classic. The ingredients are the same, but compared to its subdued predecessor, Cure for Pain is a behemoth of groove and sweeping melancholia based in a jaded sort of bluesy jazz-rock with a beatnik’s cloudy fantasy of a rock cellar. Simply put, Morphine tried to make music for cool grown-ups with cool grown-up ailments like hotel bar seduction and cognac affliction, amidst a scene of anxious grunge kids, and they succeeded. This couldn’t have worked at the time other than going for a niche audience right away.

Morphine’s sound was and is unique. The potential of each element is caught at its most exciting in these tracks: With a surprisingly sharp and punchy tone, the compositions treat Sandman’s bass as a lead instrument as well as the bedrock of their groove (I’m not quite sure how), the two-string bass constantly shaking things up with its earthquake boom and its slinky underground slide. Jerome Deupree is one of the funkiest, most loosely swinging drummers in rock music (let’s not forget the equally great Billy Conway featured on some numbers here) and Dana Colley’s saxophone work is staggering – at will freewheeling (“Head with Wings”, or the upbeat roadtrip favourite “Mary”), confrontational (the aggressive stomp of “Thursday”) or ominously foggy (“Miles Davis’ Funeral”, or the trippy and hypnotizing come-down of “Let’s Take a Trip Together”). Sandman’s voice, much like his bass, has two strings and many frets: the beat sexy low-life or the gravelly soothing crooner, and he slides up and down the full emotional register of this potentially restrictive set-up.

Making the most out of a fixed set of possibilities, it is one of the few albums where practically each of the songs has been my favourite in a certain phase of my life, with „Cure for Pain“ being an ultimate anthem of anyone who’s remotely familiar with obsession. What makes this work is the mastery of a simple recipe with diversity in attitude, mood and emotivity: A record that can be equally depressing as it can be soothing, that is as hedonistic as it is mature – like a very peaty Lagavulin. It took me a few listens (even after already having been converted to the band), but once you get hooked, there’s no turning back.

Nils Petter Molvær: Khmer

Rating: 7.7/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status
: Backdoor Classic
Released: 1997
Specific Genre: Nu Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz, Jazz Fusion, Electronic
Undertones
: EDM, Breakbeat, Trip Hop, ECM Style Jazz
Label: ECM

1 Khmer 2 Tløn 3 Access/Song of Sand I 4 On Stream 5 Platonic Years 6 Phum 7 Song of Sand II 8 Exit

An explorative but very disciplined approach extending jazz into electronic music on equal terms

To me, this sounds like Tutu gone well – replacing tired old 1980s-funk with contemporary engery of trip hop and EDM. Obviously, Molvær‘s stylistic godfather regarding his trumpet sound is Miles Davis, especially Marcus Miller’s Davis – and quite openly so: The trumpet lick of „Platonic Years“ is the exact one that opens Davis’s Doo-Bop album with „Mystery“. While such a description should make me run for shelter, this release is actually quite terrific and (partially) makes me see even the lesser aspects of Davis’s synth-jazz era as a forerunner of successful outings of electronic and nujazz such as this.

Khmer is a primarily stylistic affair. The sound is crystal clear, dominated by Molvær‘s now piercing, now soothing trumpet, floating over mostly programmed (?) beats which range from ambient background to heavy thunder, bordering on wild outbreaks à la Massive Attack here and there. Distorted guitars and filtered cellos (?) add to an explorative but very disciplined approach extending jazz into electronic music on equal terms. Molvær adds an eastern element to the grooves (the tabla-like percussion on „On Stream“ sounds like a sample from an Indian raga) over which he supplies his druidic trumpet solos.

After the two mesmerizing, beat-and-crunched-guitar-driven openers and a great trip hop freakout on „Access/Song of Sand I“, the record gets dreamier and borderline ambient towards the middle, approaching Eno-territory on the mellow „Platonic Years“ and „Phum“. In a suite-like dramaturgy, the hypnotic beats of „Song of Sand II“ make an reappearance and the record glides away with „Exit“, less of a song and more of a coda. But what makes this work? Is it just the deliberate craftsmanship that adds layer on layer, creating an amazing array of musical details and nuances, rewarding a close listen? The true strength of this distorted and programmed approach to jazz is the fact that Molvær evokes yearning emotions mostly through timbre, swerving from heavy EDM beats to pure blissful melancholia to soothing inner landscapes of stalagmitical ice caves with astounding consistency.

The criticism Khmer draws is easily explained: It does feel like an approach that works for one album. This is too experimental and cerebral for „Café-del-Mar“-listeners, but too electronic and ‚easy‘ for jazz snobs. I like to see this as an advantage of Khmer. It’s thinkable to give this to totally different people such as trip hoppers, house-junkies, jazz aficionados and chill-sound-folks, with at least some of each group ending up liking it. As an icicle blazing through the European jazz scene in the late 1990s, it’s still a cold gust of wind more than twenty years later.