Monday, 23 February 2009

Memories Of Mr. 23 (The Alfred Harth Chronicles)

CASSIBER, MARK I

In a perfect world (pun intended), the finest music would result in a composition that sounds like an impromptu outburst of accomplished creativity – no pre-established rules, no rigidness, no nothing as Peter Br√∂tzmann would have it. Cassiber (originally Kassiber, the name deriving from the Slavonic term indicating a “message smuggled out of prison”) were maybe the group that got nearest to that vision. The band’s official trace starts from 1982, but Christoph Anders, Chris Cutler, Heiner Goebbels and Alfred Harth had already met five years earlier, at the times of the Sogennantes Linksradikales Blasorchester. Interested by punk, willing to mix that influence with radical jazz, classical and various kinds of interference – made concrete by the use of radio and TV snippets and all sorts of samples – the original quartet recorded a couple of gems between 1982 and 1984, their significance at a stage of intensity and unrefined magnificence equivalent to the most essential politically committed talents of that (and any) era. After Harth’s departure in 1984 to form Gestalt et Jive and Vladimir Estragon, the remaining three kept producing great work in albums such as Perfect Worlds (there you go) and A Face We All Know, both on Recommended. Yet this writer has always perceived Cassiber minus A23H as a healthy body missing a limb.

Still, what really identifies the quintessence of this coherently wild corporation is probably Anders’ perennially hollered delivery: an exaggerated, histrionic mixture of irony, rage and sorrow that constitutes a veritable trademark instantly evident in “Not Me”, Man Or Monkey’s icebreaker. This introduction is unquestionably ill-mannered, an instantly nervous concoction of non-existent harmonic contexts where the collective multi-instrumentalist ability of the quartet is straight-away detectable, the sound shifting across many finalities without a definite answer to the needs elicited by this suspension. The repeated piano note constituting the backbone of “Red Shadow” brings to mind the first movement of Fred Frith’s “Sadness, Its Bones Bleached Behind Us” on The Technology Of Tears, whereas the fake Mariachi style of the impressively anguishing “Our Colourful Culture” is incontestably the most dramatic moment of the album, Anders reciting Cutler’s lyrics portraying a desperate man rambling about his people starving and getting killed while “we fight in the mountains”, the song ending with the protagonist’s spine-chilling hysterical laughter as the main theme fades to black. Curiously, this is the only segment in which the drumming chores are handled by another musician, Peter Prochir. “O Cure Me” sees the fervent vocalist declaiming a passage by Johann Sebastian Bach along delirious instrumental circumstances where contrapuntal implicitness and transitory phases are the menu du jour, the whole underlined by a cheap sequencer-based progression. Perhaps this release is where the doses of anarchy are more abundant than anywhere else, as clearly demonstrated by the free-for-all character of the lengthy title track and the Miles Davis-meets-dilettante guitarist adventure of “Django Vergibt”. The best was yet to come, though.

The Beauty And The Beast is, simply put, an epochal masterpiece of “progressive something” (put your designation here). Here, Cassiber’s deranged poetry achieves the highest level of expressivity, the music conversant with post Henry Cow-ism in the remarkable “What” and, especially, “Six Rays”, featuring Anders again uttering his restlessness amidst apparently unrelated brass blasts and a killer riff emphasizing the piece’s surefooted walk. “Robert” utilizes shreds of classic orchestration in a genre-pulverizing framework defined by illogical vocalism; instead, “Last Call” appears as the soundtrack to a noir interpreted by Tod Browning’s freaks, sarcasm and mystery surrounding an intoxicated telephone conversation. “Ach Heile Mich” is a hallucinating circus beginning with Anders chuckling and talking over a chaotic parallelism of volatile harmonies. Harth hopelessly tries to restore some balance with more linear (…) phrasings, only to get overwhelmed and blasted out by the return of a Tchaikovsky-ish cadenza leading the foursome towards a crazed garrulity in one of the many dangerously exciting moments of this group’s history. This particular piece should be downloaded in millions of iPods across the globe. Also notable are “Under New Management”, a potentially relaxed vibe completely disintegrated by the irredeemably lawless spirit of the ensemble, and the gorgeous “Vengeance Is Dancing” – namely the nearest thing to Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like The Wind” that Cassiber could ever conceive. In any case, nobody will ever beat the irresistible passion of the final suite, ending with the hymn “At Last I’m Free” (that's right, Chic!): the musicians play and sing like if they knew in advance that this is the final tune they‘re going to perform prior of their demise, intransigence and dogmatisms thrown out of the window in favour of a multiform granulation of sonic varieties that generously invite the audience to join a party celebrating the upcoming end.

Accept a friendly advice from an indelicately aging old fart: everything made by Cassiber is mandatory listening, among the most excellent efforts in the four members’ careers. If you want to start with a single title The Beauty And The Beast is the absolute must, a supreme epitaph for what was once called “art” and nowadays has been reduced to the same status of toothpaste and stockings at the supermarket. What these guys achieved with this record can’t even be remotely understood by the laptop-fed, cell phone-burnt, one-dimensional brains from the present, definitely imperfect world.