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Soft Machine to Blue Neptune: Krakatau's Top Five Fusion Tracks

Krakatau play Freedom Time this New Years' Day alongside Theo Parrish, Harvey Sutherland and Nick the Record and more.

by Issy Beech
21 November 2016, 5:20am

Photo courtesy of the artist

Legend has it that part of what brought Melbourne band Krakatau together was their geek-like appreciation of niche genres and rare records. Seeing them play, hearing mixes they make, and listening to their record Water Near a Bridge from 2014, that all becomes pretty damn clear. A deep—possibly too deep—love of music from a bygone era is much of what makes Krakatau singular and mesmerising.

What better way to learn from them than a Top Five list. As one of many incredible artists booked for the much-anticipated Freedom Time—the New Years' Day festival—where they will play alongside Theo Parrish, Harvey Sutherland and Nick the Record, among others, we asked the band to put together and educational list of their top five fusion releases.

Kick back, draw the blinds, make a cool drink, and enjoy.

Soft Machine – "The Soft Weed Factor" (1973)

James: Although not as much today as three years ago, the influence for Krakatau can't be linked more to any one band as to Soft Machine. A crucial link in the chain from the more free form side of 60s and 70s music into jazz and jazz fusion. Soft Machine transitioned from Progressive Rock into their own form of oblique and angular fusion in the early 70s that I personally believe as important and influential as Miles Davis' seminal 'Bitches Brew' to the genre (especially in Europe). "The Soft Weed Factor" is a track from the 1973 double LP, 6 (also five albums between 1970 and 1973 – wow) an 11 minute mini-epic where they effortlessly apply the layered minimalism of Steve Reich and Terry Riley to a jazz funk band context. This track is all about restraint; just wait for the groove to kick!

Tarika Blue – "Blue Neptune" (1976)

Jack: Winding spiritual realness from Ryo Kawasaki, Barry Coleman, Kevin Atkins, Bradie Speller, Marvin Blackman and Phil Clendeninn from the 1976 record The Blue Path. When I first heard this piece I distinctly remember it was the instrumental interaction that jumped out at me. Each musician's respect to each other's playing, and the structure of the piece, beautifully demonstrates the possibility of improvised music. Highly dynamic, deep, exploratory playing that is as much chaotic as it wonderfully controlled. Clendeninn's approach to the keyboard on this track is super unique, it drives hard yet maintains an uncompromising restraint and sparseness that acts as a perfect foundation for Blackman's highly lyrical, no holds barred saxophone explorations. To me, the way the band walks a constant line between unification and openness on this tune is nothing short of inspiring, and shows what an instinctive, expressive music fusion can be.

Toni Esposito – "Danza Caruana" (1978)

Dylan: "Danza Caruana" by Toni Esposito from La Banda del Sole (1978) is a great example of his marriage of African percussive instrumentation to European fusion compositional sensibilities. Earthy malleted drums underlie a river-esque soundscape, beautifully incorporating mandolin, bowed double bass, mbira (thumb piano), and a cooing talking drum.

Passport – "Sky Blue" (1978)

Danny: Passport are a classic German jazz rock/fusion band, with big krautrock influences in their early work. This song is from the both underrated and wildly inconsistent album Ataraxia from '78 and combines smooth jazz with elements of disco. Cosmic groover.

Elements – "Starward" (1982)

James: Elements is a US fusion project of Mark Egan, Bill Evans (not to be confused with the Bill Evans – imagine living under that shadow!), Clifford Carter and Danny Gottlieb. Egan was already of semi-star notoriety by this point for the extensive session work already under his belt as well as a few albums he had made as a member of the Pat Metheny Group. Also Egan much like Mick Karn was one of the bass players championing the lyrical, fretless-chorus bass sound becoming increasingly popular in 80s fusion and left field music. "Starward" is from the self titled Elements LP from 1982 and can only be described as deep-reggae-jazz-fusion. It is also the only example I can think of these two genres being fused with such effect and transcendent deepness. Every member brings their A-game to this track.

Krakatau play Freedom Time on January 1, 2017. More information on the festival, and about how to acquire tickets here.

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