Dutch multi-instrumentalist / producer Jason Kohnen is well known for his parallel ‘darkjazz’ outfits The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and its improvisation-oriented sister group The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, but 2014 saw him dissolving both of the above bands in order to focus on new musical projects. That same year saw him releasing the debut EP from his new band alongside French / Algerian vocalist Leila Bounous and trumpet player Izzy Op De Beeck The Thing With Five Eyes, and four years on this latest collection ‘Noirabesque’ finally offers their debut album proper.
As both the title and sleeve art hint, there’s a noticeably greater emphasis upon Arabic and Middle Eastern musical influences than was present on Kohnen’s aforementioned preceding bands, with the nine tracks collected here smoothly shifting between dark cinematic electronics, eerie Arabic jazz and lush downtempo beats, often within the space of a single song. Occasionally it’s the spectre of triphop, perhaps more particularly the intersection of world music and downbeat electronics pursued by Bill Laswell’s Axiom Dub label that most immediately looms as an influence here.
The live percussion-driven ‘Hedra’ even calls to mind a more apocalyptic Middle Eastern take on The Herbaliser’s smoky drum breaks as clattering snares and ominous wind instrumentation build beneath Bounous’ soaring delay-ghosted vocals, the burnished guitar chords that chime in at the very end suggesting the last desperate hints of daylight slipping beneath the horizon.
From there, ‘Zigurhat’ sees moonlit darkness taking centre stage as clattering hand percussion wanders against dark atmospheric swirls of electronics, before De Beeck’s majestic Middle Eastern-accented trumpet solo takes the forefront, anchoring the opulently swelling background arrangements as they build to a midnight-black conclusion amidst clouds of bowed instrumentation and Bounous’ wordless siren tones.
‘Salem’ meanwhile reaches out into futuristic widescreen electronics as bright flashes of majestic synth orchestration arc against ominous digitally contorted electronics and bass buzzes, the glacial keys seeming to hang suspended over the crunching beats that lurch beneath. Elsewhere, the gently IDM-kissed ‘Alma’ calls to mind the texturally rich orchestrated landscapes explored by Plaid on their soundtrack for the anime film ‘Tekkonkinkreet’ more than anything else as digitally processed rhythms slither and snap against epically building Arabic string arrangements, clapping hand percussion and Bounous’ spectral diva presence. ‘Noirabesque’ is certainly an apt description of the dark cinematic visions being crafted by Kohnen and his collaborators on this stunning debut album.