With their two latest releases, Dutch ‘heavy jazz’ duo Dead Neanderthals make music for the body and the head, says MacDara Conroy
I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Dutch ‘heavy jazz’ duo Dead Neanderthals. Indeed my first review for this very site praised their face-melting double-header Jazzhammer/Stormannsgalskap. Since then René Aquarius and Otto Kokke have made even better records, some of which I’ve written about here and elsewhere – such as the astounding Polaris (Utech Records), one of my favourites of 2013 – and I’ve even done an extended in-depth interview with the guys. So you can take what I say about their latest music with a grain of salt, but Prime is a belter.
Prime marks their second collaboration with London-based saxophonist and improviser Colin Webster, their first (last year’s …And It Ended Badly, also on London jazz/rock/noise imprint Gaffer Records) alternating between aggressive, duelling, dancing sax lines with frantic percussion and more doleful but tense passages. This time, however, there is no let up. Prime is all attack – a single 40-minute assault on the senses, harking back to the sustained pummel of Jazzhammer.
Modally it’s more stripped back compared to the new sounds and techniques they’ve been exploring since breaking out from the minute-long grind-inspired jazz blasts the band began with. The overall sound is monotone, mainlining a persistent one-note drone, while the drumming maintains a constant pattern to its clatter. Listen closer, though, and everything that makes them special is there.
Like Borbetomagus before them, there’s that unhinged yet playful interplay between the musicians, and between the players and their instruments themselves. There’s that same spiritual connection that Ali, Coltrane, Ayler et al expressed more than four decades ago with their fiery tempestuousness of the heart and soul. It’s intensely physical music, injurious to the players involved (Webster bled on his mouthpiece) and exhausting to listen to, but in the best possible way. Like any test of endurance, the euphoria makes everything worth it.
Whereas Prime might be described as body music, DNMF (Moving Furniture Records) – the core duo’s hybrid project with electro-acoustic sound artist Rutger Zuydervelt, AKA Machinefabriek – aims for the head. It’s telling that they’ve taken a different name for this output as it doesn’t really reflect their main body of work. In this case, Kokke and Aquarius supply the sounds for Zuydervelt to manipulate across two lengthy tracks, ‘The Thing On the Doorstep’ and ‘The Colour Out Of Space’.
Those titles are apt. The former is a bleak field of sound that crackles and thumps and decays with a damaged techno noise feel; it wouldn’t sound out of place in a mix with the likes of Basic House or Container if it were shorter. The latter sounds more like Dead Neanderthals manipulating Machinefabriek than the other way round as their propulsive physical presence drives much of its near 18-minutes, goading the noisemaker into producing harsh tones and ringing drones from his array of boxes and cables. Both provide better results than if Zuydervelt had merely remixed some Dead Neanderthals tracks, and represent a new facet – or even personality – for the duo that’s worth exploring in future.