It's a winning, warming blend
Chris Jones 2008
Most know Irmin Schmidt as the grumpy uncle-looking keyboard player from krautrock legends, Can. Of course, of all the members of that venerable institution it's probably Holger Czukay and Jaki Leibzeit who have been most visible in flying the flag for Cologne’s finest. But Schmidt hasn’t been slack. He’s worked on many film projects and even written an opera based on Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast. And now Axolotl Eyes is the follow-up to his other collaboration with drum 'n' bass technician, Jono Podmore aka Jumo: Masters Of Confusion.
Masters…was basically the record of the duo's live work, subsequently tinkered with in the studio. Axolotl…is a wholly studio confection. Its roots lie in the polyrhythmic experiments detailed in the album's liner notes by Jumo. Maybe one reason why this album represents some of the best work by Schmidt for some time is that his muse needs to be tickled by people who understand rhythm. Can's Leibzeit as we all know was a funky, motorik powerhpouse. Jumo is a much more squiggly, digital beast, but along with contributions from trumpeter Ian Dixon and vocalist, Paul J Fredericks, he really gels with Schmidt’s rippling piano and some very subtle electronics.
Opener Kick On The Floods could actually come from Can’s Soon Over Babaluma days, with its eastern shuffle and whispered vocals. This hypnotic if oddly-metered approach is the general rule here, broken only by the freeform twittering and warbling of Umbilicus Clear. It's a winning, warming blend that finally arrives at Schmidt's wonderfully skewed piano on Etrurian Waltz.
Only on Raketenstradt do the pair fall down. The track's Miles Davis funk and growling guitars seems too off the cuff at times, though it does get wonderfully messy about halfway through.
Paired with a DVD of the duo's installation work: Flies, Guys and Choirs, Axolotl Eyes is a welcome and accessible return for the grumpy uncle. And yes, you can dance to it…