Sweeter As The Years Roll By . Heaven And
2008. cd . dl . lp
"Within the 48 minutes of this album, a lot of what can happen in music (plus a lot of what had hitherto been unthought of) takes place. On first hearing of this music, the two tracks with vocals (provided by Alexander Hacke of Einstürzende Neubauten- and solo-fame) could serve as a welcome starting point of this adventurous musical ride." (Ralf Bei der Kellen)
"Sweeter as the years roll by" is a phrase which many will associate with wine. The music of the 21st century has during these last eight years turned out to be the proverbial "old wine in new skins" – which is small wonder, since remixing, cut'n'paste or whatever name one wants to bestow on these ancient methods of producing new culture by using the old, have become available to almost everyone. The "digital revolution" of the last two decades has also made these processes easier than ever before – almost everybody can apply them.
One side effect of this welcome development has been a glut of uninspired and often blatant recycling products. On first hearing the music of HEAVEN AND, one could easily dismiss it as belonging in exactly that category. Elements of the diverse musical styles from the last five decades are clearly discernible. Listening to the first track "as if a star", one can make out a vast range of influences: A psychedelic backwards guitar cuts through the whir of a cymbal reminiscent of jazz and trance music, while in the second half, a layer of guitar sounds hovers over it which reminds one of the sounds emanating from the Fender amps of the bands belonging to the so-called "Americana"-movement. At the same time, the track comes across as an update of those stoic monster tracks of early seventies krautrock. (And when it comes to minimalism, the bass line on "as if a star" beats any of Holger Czukay’s in terms of sparseness.)
The third track "bring back those happy days" with its manic, almost exploding guitar and its rompish, hippie-like percussion orgy is quite another cup of tea. "Art Ensemble Of Chicago meets Keiji Haino"? Or "Pharoah Sanders meets Sonny Sharrock meets Boredoms"? In the course of the album's duration, HEAVEN AND take their listeners on an unsettling roller coaster ride of styles. Sometimes, elements of the blues stick out, while at other times, elements of heavy metal, post rock, avantgarde, free jazz or noise are up front, so that the listener keeps wondering what (in heaven's name) it is s/he's hearing. One clue to this is the list of participants on this project. One look at it makes it clear that this is not music concocted by some part-time musician at his laptop, in which the fissures between the elements are still evident through the electronic glue.
From musicians such as MARTIN SIEWERT (guitars, lap steel, electronics, keyboards), TONY BUCK (drums, percussion), STEVE HEATHER (drums, marimba, percussion) and ZEITBLOM (bass, keyboards) one has never heard a single stereotypical sound. In HEAVEN AND, they use musical forms which through their overuse have almost all turned into clichés and fill them with new ideas – their ideas. So in fact it’s the other way round: The music of HEAVEN AND is old skins with new wine (only tasting a lot better). These four individuals create their music without making the slightest compromise, sounding only like they themselves could in this constellation – which renders all attempts at describing their music futile. The one thing that can be said is that their music teems with energy and a "take no prisoners"-attitude. And there is the fact that everything has been played in real time (thus harking back to the production methods of an era in which the computer was not yet the supreme ruler in the studio).
Towards the end of a long journey, one starts to look forward to coming home. A similar feeling might be experienced by musicians who have spent years engaging themselves in artistic utopias, explored new fusion styles and investigated modern production tools and found themselves glued to a computer in the process. After all these years, these musicians might have developed a certain craving to once more play in a sturdy, sweaty, hands-on live band (with a keen drive to create something new, of course).
"Heaven And is a band which does not recoil from obvious musical references", guitarist Martin Siewert remarks. "It's this approach alone that distinguishes us from the majority of projects in the field of improvised music." Siewert's partner in production and bass player zeitblom adds: "To let our joint musical backgrounds flow into this music is a vital part of the concept. Thus, ideas from archaic blues, psychedelic rock, Sun Ra's Arkestra and Miles Davis' electric jazz are fused. We have isolated the individual influences from their original context and put them into a new musical environment." The bold play with homages and codes is very risky, but then the individualists who make up Heaven And are experienced enough to dodge all snares and springs of the bland musical quotation.
On stage, Heaven And play as a quartet - without guests or sounds from computer or sampler. Only analogue electronics such as ring modulators, feedback generators, oscillators or loop machines will be employed to augment the original sounds of guitars, bass, drums and percussion. In comparison with the album, this live sound can be a lot coarser and more ferocious. "Usually we play a high level programme with excessive improvisations", promises Siewert.
In contrast to his work with the band Trapist (where he plays with Martin Brandlmayr and Joe Williamson), in Heaven And Martin Siewert deliberately flirts with cross-references from the history of (popular) music - and not just in his playing: "Both albums are named after songs by Blind Willie Johnson." This relatively obscure bluesman wrote the legendary slide guitar composition "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground", which Ry Cooder chose as his leitmotif for the soundtrack to Wim Wenders' movie "Paris-Texas". Decades ago, NASA chose the song as the representative of popular music of the 20th century for a record which was included on board the Voyager spacecraft. "But ultimately, our music reminds me more of Haitian voodoo masses than of classic blues from Texas", muses Siewert. "In any case, it reminds me of an archaic spirit and unadulterated, transcendental energy."