It’s not often you get to review an album of psychedelic Belgian Jazz that has been passed through an African and Middle-Eastern filter but the new album from Compro Oro Suburban Exotica is cut from many cultural cloths and wears its influences proudly on its sleeve. The band is Wim Segers – vibraphone, marimba, Bart Vervaeck – guitar, Matthias Debusschere – bass, Falk Schrauwen – percussion and Frederik Van den Berghe – drums and also features drummer, keyboardist and percussionist Joachim (son of Ry) Cooder guesting on ‘Miami New Wave’, ‘Rastapopoulos’ and ‘Dark Crystal’.
Here we have a selection of tracks that don’t just stick in one groove but roam around styles as much as they roam around the globe. The opening track ‘Miami New Wave’ has a compelling beat driven by high-hat and sequenced keyboards over which there’s a slightly atonal guitar lead. Added to this the clanging bell section about two-thirds of the way through and you feel like you’re on a wild ride down the Miami coast from dusk to dark watching all the clubs come to life. ’10 Dollar Jeans Jacket’ and ’11 Dollar Iphone’ (sic) are yin and yang with the former a rambunctious Moroccan-Reggae melange that cracks wide-open half way through to reveal a fuzzed-up psych-core that shakes the foundations of the track and the latter a slow meditation on vibes that creeps and crackles and rumbles like a rainforest waking up. And wake up it does on ‘Mogadishu’, which is a slow dollop of lollop full of thrumming vibes and the monkey-noise of the Cuíca, and ‘Rastapopoulos’ both of which show the influence of Ethiopian Mulatu Astatke (who mixed traditional local music with jazz) and Missouri-born musician Cal Tjader, both of whom excelled on the Vibraphone. The band also return to this sound later on the album on ‘Baobab’ which feels like it could have been lifted from the soundtrack of a cult film.
The album temporarily shifts up a gear with ‘Lalibela’ a track that plays synth and drums off against one and other in a joyous battle. The sound is reminiscent of popular seventies fusion acts like Azymuth, Roy Ayers or Weather Report when the synthesiser was the new kid in town and vied for musical real estate alongside acoustic instruments. This flows into ‘Dark Crystal’ which starts as a gentle babbling stream of susurrating drums over which the guitar plays a sweet pond-skating tune, then moves through some beautiful harmonies with the vibes before soaring fuzzily into another non-Western scale solo and finally returning to tranquillity of the stream. ‘Geef Je Geld’ (which I think translates as ‘Give Your Money’) starts with a slightly menacing sound that has the whiff of spy film about it. I could picture someone being tailed from the shadows and then half way through a chase breaking out; a frenetic race between guitar and vibes. The album ends with ‘Kruitvat’ which is a low-key atmospheric track that could have come out of the trip-hop movement in the Nineties (I hear the muted trumpet featured on the ‘Ki Oku’ release by DJ Krush & Toshinori Kondo) or from an Ennio Morricone-scored Spaghetti Western. I also loved the fade out of instruments at the end revealing a banjo that was rolling in the background; a peak behind the curtain at how well they had thought out the sound layers of the album.
In keeping with a Middle Eastern theme the album has the feel of a Bazaar, with all the tracks vying for your attention. Having listened through a dozen or so times the jury is still out for me on whether it’s cohesive enough as an album or not. The disparate nature of the tracks made it feel like a great compilation album but there are some stand out tracks in the mix and I’m always a sucker for great percussion and vibes which Suburban Exotica has a plenty. Compro Oro have rhythm and style and who could ask for anything more?
Review by Paul F Cook