“Mwendo Dawa,” this Swedish group’s press kit informs me, means “the way to a special goal” in Swahili. On the evidence presented by Time Sign
, their “special goal” is to create some of the thorniest, most vertiginous fusion out there today. In this they succeed, with sometimes thrilling results. The difficulty of some of the music, however, may make it as incomprehensible to some listeners as, well, Swahili.
Mwendo Dawa is led by keyboardist Susanna Lindeborg, who, along with tenor player Ove Johansson, writes the music. Jimmi Roger Pedersen on bass and drummer David Sunby lay down aggressive rhythms with impressive power and precision. The tunes are tricky and sometimes torturous, with angular themes incorporating serial compositional techniques reflecting Lindeborg’s origins as a classical pianist. Johansson is a bracing and sometimes exhilarating soloist, and most tracks contain examples of exciting group interplay.
Unfortunately, the tunes on the first half of the album are drenched in gloppy synthesizer textures that are more suggestive of horror movie soundtracks or Emerson, Lake, & Palmer albums than, say, Herbie Hancock. Despite this, there are some enjoyable moments: for example, the opening “2nd of July,” which strikes an improbably intriguing balance between a funky groove, pounding atonal synthesizer, and a tightly coiled solo from Johansson. “Free Fall” is a brief conversation between bass, koto-like synthesizer, and tenor sax that is enigmatically satisfying.
The solo piano excursion “Alone Piano” kicks off the more focused second half of the album and fascinatingly moves through a number of modern classical styles, while seeming at several points to fleetingly flirt with the blues. The title track resembles nothing so much as recent King Crimson art-thrash, while “Techno 4 Four” quickly ditches its grinding synthesizer intro to unfold into a wild, but more recognizable, free jazz realm.
While there is much to like about Time Sign, I found myself wishing that Mwendo Dawa would strip off the layers of synthesizer ectoplasm and focus on the group’s obvious, and more organic, free jazz power. Adventurous listeners who like their jazz in-your-face and techno-fused, however, will have no such reservations. All others may want to wait for Mwendo Dawa to go commercial and put out a Christmas CD.
Personnel: Susanna Lindeborg: Piano,Keyboards
Ove Johansson: Tenor sax, EWI,Computer
Jimmi Roger Pedersen: Bass
David Sundby: Drums