Koenjihyakkei – Dhorimviskha

3 out of 5

Label: Skin Graft

Produced by: Koenjihyakkei (?)

You have to love – adore, please – a band that can very purposefully craft a style, give that style a name, and then here we are, frikkin’ 50 years later, and Koenjihyakkei plays ‘zeuhl’ music – a la Magma, the originators – and you pretty much know exactly what that means, even if the groups are very much not the same. That said, there is a similar operatic nature to the bands’ compositions, though Ruins’ Tatsuya Yoshida’s take on it is more unleashed seeming than Magma’s otherworldly version. And though Koenjihyakkei has aimed in a much more jazzy direction than the distorted rock spazz with which they started – closer to Ruins, and pushing the musicality and rhythm of things further and further as the group swapped out members and shifted approaches – this is still very wild stuff; very unleashed. It just so happens to also kinda crossover with scat jazz, and to be downright be-boppy and poppy on occasion – not tags you would’ve levied at the group upon their debut.

Somewhat critically, this is pretty similar to Angherr Shisspa from over a decade back, though I’d say it’s even slicker. Yoshida’s blazing skin-work is fully integrated; his exchange of vocals with Ah seems practiced, and not the made-up language ravings that it might be – there’s even a lyric sheet. That slickness has pushed us a bit away from an appealing edge to the music, though it still burbles through: opener Vleztemtraiv is key to proving there’s delightful madness here, and after some catchy, nigh-accessible jazz jams, Djebelaki Zomn and Palbeth Tissilaq mix in some appreciated angularity. And the slickness is, also… slick. Even with the edges, Dhorimviskha slips by in a blur of funky and skillful playing; quirky horn hooks, drum fills, and trilling vocals. None of that’s bad, by any means, but those who come to this fresh, perhaps exploring the Skin Graft stable, might be confused how something that broaches a rather normal improv jazz sound at points is on a no-wave label, and is put out by the madman from Ruins.

Then again, SG has always been about dodging convention, and with a little context on how the group has evolved, Dhorimviskha is right in line, if maybe not a challenge to the status quo they’d previously established.

The vinyl version, besides looking (and sounding) great, includes a bonus “piano” version of Levhorm, which, yes, features piano, and is slightly more “live” or organic sounding, but otherwise not a huge shift from the original. Still, it’s a nice extra.