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Djam Karet: Live Stuff and Rarities

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Djam Karet exemplify every potential of the instrumental guitar band, delivering power and verve with every composition. Their music is a momentous sonic achievement, fusing raw vitality with an intelligent disposition to produce a unique and appealing fury.

Many people consider "progrock" to be a fairyland populated by early Genesis wanna-bes and renaissance minstrels. Djam Karet has managed to revitalize this misunderstood genre with new stamina, bringing a dark terrain to that fairyland with their exciting intensity.

Djam Karet is: Gayle Ellett (on guitar, electronics, et al), Mike Henderson (on guitar, electronics, et al), Chuck Oken Jr. (on drums and electronics), with Henry J. Osborne (on bass and didgeridoo) on older releases and Aaron Kenyon (on bass) on more recent recordings.

It is amazing (and laudable) how this band can produce such a plethora of fresh material from their long career without duplication or redundancy (as remarkably exampled in the following archival series of releases). Their music is always lively and different, while rarely straying from the emphatic standard that has made Djam Karet a living legend.

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DJAM KARET: No Commercial Potential (double CD on HC Productions)

This double CD from 2004 features a delightful dose of powerful, improvisational progrock.

Disc 1 offers 58 minutes of music from 1985 that was originally released as the (now long out-of-print) cassette tape, "No Commercial Potential". The line-up for this music is: Ellett, Henderson, Oken, and Osborne.

The music swiftly flows from an unstructured opening into a tight concordance that can sear the paint from the wall. Durable drums provide relentless rhythms for the dual guitar interplay and the molten basslines. Riffs are exchanged between the two guitars with a liquid dexterity that achieves a furious passion, blinding and dazzling.

Disc 2 features 55 minutes of previously unreleased music spontaneously composed during the "A Night for Baku" sessions in 2002. The line-up here is: Ellett, Henderson, Kenyon, and Oken (with Osborne on one track).

This music begins with a lazier demeanor, exhibiting dreamy overtones with ascending slides and atmospheric synthesizers. Soft percussion gently goads along the somnambulant quality of the music. The bass creeps like furtive thunder amid the luxurious guitar trade-offs. It is rare to hear the band explore such a temperate mode for so long; the result is entirely ambrosial.

By the third (of three tracks), this ethereal set finally accretes into the band's signature fervent style, however, with excruciating intensity and furious rhythms that spin the head with relentless velocity. Guitar riffs of astounding complexity blaze like supernovas that loom dangerously close overhead, while the thunderous bass rumbles out seductive foundations that drive deep into the visceral tissues of the body. The percussion moves throughout this mix, injecting dynamic motivation to an already dizzying sonic gestalt.

The CD contains a 24 page color booklet featuring numerous band photos (live and posed), and notes on a few concert performances, along with a crucial statement of purpose that includes instructions on pronouncing (and understanding the meaning) of the band's name. (The general translation comes out to be: "elastic time, the hour that stretches".)

Do not confuse this release with the band's "Still No Commercial Potential" CD from 1998; there is no connection other than the title. The music featured on both releases is wholly different.

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DJAM KARET: Afghan (CDR on HC Productions)

This CDR from 2001 offers 53 minutes of amazing guitar rock recorded live at the Knitting Factory in New York City on June 26, 2001.

Dazzling guitars are the core of Djam Karet's brilliant sound, belting out high-velocity riffs that interweave with each other, forming complex soundscapes that scrape the ceiling of heaven with their enthusiastic outcry. The bass establishes a geological undercurrent that trembles with deep resonance. The drums generate a constant snake-pit of animated rhythms, intricate and frenzied, yet calculated and cerebral.

There is a remarkable intelligence to Djam Karet's music, reaching beyond the wall-of-sound stupefaction to delve into psychic strata usually associated with high-brow contemplation. The band inject that thoughtful state with a high-energy fervor, though, banishing any passive introspection and replacing it with invigorating ecstasy.

This music leaves the listener breathless, but hardly exhausted. It's as if the tuneage possesses occult capacities, taking the energy it creates and infusing the audience with fresh vigor. Mental clarity increases. Heart-rates stabilize at a higher pace.

Although this concert comes from the band's tour in support of their "New Dark Age" release, the songs performed originate from a wide selection of Djam Karet's long career.

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DJAM KARET: Live at NEARfest 2001 (CD on NEARfest Records) also available from HC Productions)

This CD from 2004 features 65 minutes of dazzling progrock recorded live at the North East Art Rock Festival in Pennsylvania, on June 24, 2001.

Searing guitars fill the air with ecstatic energy, blinding the audience with nimble-fingered chords and complex interplays. The basslines growl with stunning vibrancy, generating a rumbling foundation that vibrates the listener's bones with their guttural influence. The drums achieve a frantic velocity, delivering intricate rhythms and emphatic beats at a dizzying rate. The guitars share this rapid-fire pace, spouting amazing riffs faster than should be humanly possible.

A few tracks exhibit the band's more pensive compositions, involving a pronounced ambient presence. But do not be deceived; "ambient" for Djam Karet does not mean passive in any sense of the word.

Although the songs here are similar to the track list on "Afghan", there's a few more pieces on "Live at NEARfest 2001", and the band's predilection for improvisation makes each performance a unique experience.

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DJAM KARET: #1 (CDR on HC Productions)

This CDR from 2001 offers a single 24 minute-long track, being a previously unreleased rehearsal improv from 1985/86 that predates their "The Ritual Continues" release.

It's exotic beginning bears Far Eastern influences with quasi-sitar and random percussives. This airy feeling slowly adopts definition as the percussives gradually evolve into more complex rhythms. Guitars enter into play with wobbly sustains and twirling bird-like chords. The bass ascends as if rising from the earth, injecting a substantially deeper presence to the mix. Meanwhile, the guitars begin wandering through auxiliary riffs that liven things with their exploratory ventures. Shrill squeals flow into delicious bubbling. Clever aspects merge with each other, forming a unity that is breathtaking to behold. The piece concludes with a return to its Eastern roots punctuated by gurgling keyboards and buzzing quasi-sitars.

This release not only affords fans an intimate glimpse into the band's compositional process, drawing coherence from unplanned expression, but the music stands alone as a stunning piece, vibrant and enthrallingly thrilling.

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DJAM KARET: #2 (CDR on HC Productions)

This CDR from 2002 features 24 minutes of live progrock gems.

Featured are three previously unreleased songs recorded live at a KCRW-FM concert in Santa Monica, California, on July 1, 1989. Also included is the only available live version of "The Sky Opens Twice."

Strong guitars belt out commanding chords while drums provide masterful rhythms and vibrant bass pops with guttural rumblings. The gestalt of all this produces an engaging compendium of powerful riffs that dazzle and mesmerize while invigorating the audience with stratospheric sensibilities. Vivid strumming interweaves with blazing attack guitar chords to create a complex mesh of fervent melodies.

This glimpse into Djam Karet's live show from the late Eighties is full of guitar passion with a touch of keyboards entering their sound. The performance is tight and intense, dedicated to generating innovative progrock of a type that blends ambitious expansion with straight-ahead rock.

One track features special voice-over by John F. Kennedy amid a dose of meandering experimentation.

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DJAM KARET: A Beginners' Guide, Volume 1...Plus (CD on HC Productions)

This CDR from 2002 offers 76 minutes of choice selections from past releases.

Besides the opportunity to surf through the band’s older releases, this sampler CD offers a pair of rare tracks found only on obscure collection releases.

This collection provides a critical glimpse into the music of Djam Karet, with tracks from their “Burning the Hard City”, “The Devouring”, “Reflections from the Firepool”, and “Suspension & Displacement” releases. Also included are: “Inventions of the Monsters” from the “Dali: The Endless Enigma” compilation, and “Swamp of Dreams” from the “Past Present Future” compilation.

Expect the usual brilliance: blazing guitars interweaving riffs with wild abandon, accompanied by rumbling basslines and momentous drumming. You will not be disappointed.

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DJAM KARET: A Beginners Guide, Volume 2 (CD on HC Productions)

This CDR from 2002 offers 80 minutes of further choice selections from past releases.

Besides the opportunity to surf through the band’s older releases, this sampler CD offers three rare tracks found only on obscure collection releases.

This second collection provides a critical glimpse into the music of Djam Karet, with tracks from their “New Dark Age”, “Burning the Hard City”, “The Ritual Continues”, “Afghan”, “Ascension”, and “Suspension & Displacement” releases. Also included are: “Stage Three” from the “ProgWest 2001--the Official Bootleg” collection, “New Light on the New Dark Age” from the “Fluorescent Tunnelvision” compilation, and a cover version of Richard Pinhas’ “Dedicated to K.C.” from the “Unsettled Scores” collection.

Expect the customary inventive cadence: fiery guitars flinging dazzling riffs about with serious intent, joined by gritty basslines and magnificent drumming. Again, satisfaction is imminent.

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LUX NOVA UMBRA EST: Light is the New Dark (CD EP on HC Productions)

This release from 2004 features 36 minutes of fierce instrumental rock.

Lum Nova Umbra Est is: Mike Henderson on guitars, Aaron Kenyon on bass, Xenakis on keyboards and guitars, and Connell on drums.

The artificial voice of Victoria frames three monstrously dynamic songs that explode with passion and rattle the roof with monumental drums and hyperactive guitars and dark basslines and sinuous keyboards. A strong King Crimson influence is evident in the music.

Complex riffs manifest with incredible density, deafening and relentless in their forceful expressions of humongous melody. The audience is pummeled by this sonic assault, as the tunes drive into the collective psyche and burrow in deep to evoke awe and stunned appreciation.

Frenzied basslines provide a rumbling undercurrent for the searing guitar mastery. Airy keyboards lend a touch of illumination to this subterranean excursion. Meanwhile, the constant army of drums afford no breathing room; the compressed rhythms derive massive verve from a dark place of great vitality. A thoroughly exhausting performance for all involved.

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Want more Djam Karet music? The band have several free MP3 downloads of unreleased tracks on their website, with more being added monthly.

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For more reviews of Djam Karet's releases, go here or here.

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