70's Swedish avant-garde jazz-ers Samla Mammas Manna may not be accessible enough to tickle everyone's fancy. Some folks might think that they're too bizarre and unstructured. Some folks may be turned off by the off-key chanting and yelling that peppers their releases. Some people won't like the heavy use of uncongenial instruments such as the marimba, bouzouki, veena, and accordion. But, I'd be willing to bet that everyone would agree that there's no one out there quite like the quirky foursome. SMM keep their spirit alive with the 1999 release Kaka
, a release on which they definitely show that age may make one wiser, but doesn't necessary make one more conventional. In other words, if you like verse-chorus-verse, stay far away from this one!
Explaining SMM's sound is a very challenging task indeed. The best way I could explain SMM and Kaka is "Frank Zappa meets Evil Clown music meets Tiny Tim with a splash of Animal from "The Muppet Show" and Jim McKay from "Wide World of Sports". Confused enough? Then you've got the picture perfectly - SMM offers on-the-edge, experimental avant-garde jazz that includes wild up-tempo complex numbers, songs that consist of nothing but Hasse Bruniusson's (also of the Flower Kings) percussion and grunting and yelling from the rest of the band, and the occasional break-in by a "play by play" announcer explaining what's going on in the record. While the band members are all incredible musicians (Coste Apetrea's guitar playing is almost worth the price of admission alone), what really comes through more than anything else on Kaka is SMM's very active sense of humor. That becomes apparent right off the bat as the first cut has a very "square" sounding announcer introducing the band, but totally mutilating the band's name - finally giving up on trying to pronounce it. On another track, the announcer pops in to give a blow-by-blow description of an in-studio argument that the band is having. This cavalier attitude taken towards what is very complex music gives the CD a light and "fun" feeling that is lacking with other similar releases. The pretension that is apparent with other artists simply isn't a factor here.
There are several standouts on Kaka : the second track "Lyckliga Titanic" goes from free-form fusion to a cha-cha rhythm complete with flamenco guitar playing from Apetrea that kept me glued to the stereo. "Tredje Ikarien" could almost be considered a heavy metal song for the first few minutes were it not for the mallet percussion and rag-time piano sound that accompany the guitarist's wailing. And for those who like the more bizarre aspect of SMM (namely vocal noodling), the track (and I'm NOT making this name up) "Även oss får Tiden Åldras Spasmodkij Engelbert Humperdinck Blues" sounds like a bunch of drunken and mentally insane Swedes shouting out psuedo-opera complete with ominous keyboard sounds. I almost expected to hear "Number Nine... Number Nine... Number Nine..." - that's the kind of vibe the song (if you can call it a song) emotes.
Despite its quirks, I would highly recommend Kaka to those music lovers with highly adventurous musical spirits. If you dig Zappa and similar acts, then you'll probably get a kick out of Samla Mammas Manna. The music may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it is fresh, eclectic, and deep enough to demand the attention of a listener. Just don't try to pronounce the names of the songs...
More information the Samla Mammas Manna can be found at http://www.nocom.se/~samla/.
Personnel: Coste Apetrea: Guitar, Bouzouki, Veena, Voice; Hans Bruniusson: Drums, Percussion, Marimba, Voice; Lars Hollmer: Keyboards, Accordion, Melodica, Voice; Lars Krantz: Bass, Voice