DJAM KARET – Sonic Celluloid / HC Productions, 2017 / CD / instrumental music / USA
Djam Karet was founded in 1984, and continue making new music even to this day, 33 years later! So far … they have released 18 full-length albums, including the newest release “Sonic Celluloid” (as well as an additional 24 minor releases and EPs and compilations). The California-based instrumental group has often been called America’s greatest undiscovered band. Compared by the press with King Crimson, Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Ozric Tentacles and Porcupine Tree, they are credited with breathing new life into progressive rock, leading the way to the genre’s future growth.
Djam Karet was founded in 1984 by guitarists Gayle Ellett and Mike Henderson, bassist Henry J. Osborne, and drummer Chuck Oken, Jr. They chose as the band’s name an Indonesian word (pronounced ‘jam care-RAY) that translates loosely as “elastic time“. Early Djam Karet was a proto-“jam band” whose live, totally improvised performances on the southern California/LA area college circuit featured a free-form mixture of guitar-dominated instrumental rock and textural Eastern drone music, as on their 1985 release “No Commercial Potential“. Djam Karet’s mode of working and repertoire gradually expanded beyond improvisation to include compositional elements, field recordings, and studio work. In 1987 the band released “The Ritual Continues“, which was chosen “Number 2 Album Of The Year” by ELECTRONIC MUSICIAN magazine. Two years later, they released “Reflections From The Firepool“, which received ROLLING STONE’s accolade of “Number 2 Independent Album Of The Year“.
In 1991, the band released two separate CDs at the same time: “Burning The Hard City” and “Suspension & Displacement” which “show-cased the band’s two extreme split personalities… The former was a bone-crushing excursion into heavy power rock with anarchistic guitar solos, and the latter was a brilliant diary of dark, eerie ambient soundscapes.” (EXPOSE’). Three years later in 1994, Djam Karet released the CD “Collaborator“, with guests musicians: Jeff Greinke, Kit Watkins, Marc Anderson, Steve Roach, Carl Weingarten, and many others.
As the 20th Century drew to a close, Djam Karet signed with Cuneiform Records, and entered a period of unprecedented creative productivity that only accelerated as the 21st century dawned. It began working on new releases for Cuneiform, initiated a program to repackage and reissue its back catalogue on Cuneiform, and began playing live on the festival circuit. Live shows were performed at Day Zero for 1999’s ProgDay (San Francisco); at NEARfest 2001, progressive rock’s premier US showcase; ProgWest 2001 (Claremont) and at 2002’s ProgDay (North Carolina). Throughout the years they have also contributed music to 10 compilation releases, both here and in Europe. Many of those tunes are available nowhere else.
When Cuneiform released its first Djam Karet CD in 1997 titled “The Devouring“, INNERVIEWS noted that Djam Karet is “back with a vengeance, one hell of an album“. SPACE.com applauded their expanded sound featuring more keyboards: “As if the band’s earlier music hadn’t already scorched the ceilings of heaven, this new sonic incarnation burned like a stellar nova.” In 1998, Djam Karet performed on the West and East Coasts, recordings a live album for Cuneiform titled “Live At Orion“, released in 1999, that was applauded as “one of the best live recordings that I’ve heard” and was chosen as “Top 10 Album of 1999” by EXPOSE’ Magazine. The band began to do more work in the studio, resulting in the 2001 release of “New Dark Age” (Cuneiform) and also the Limited Edition CD release “Ascension“. Numerous critics called “New Dark Age” Djam Karet’s best to date. In the words of PROGRESSION: “This may be the best Djam Karet recording yet, which is a mouthful, considering that the band’s now-voluminous output is amply studded with gems. Their brilliant synthesis of abstract mind-trip and concrete butt-kick is at an all-time high here. Sonically… it is simply masterful. This is one of the major releases of the year.“
Around the same time as “New Dark Age”‘s release, and complementary to its work with Cuneiform, Djam Karet launched a series of self-released CD-Rs, reissues and limited edition CDs for its fans. Within two years, the band had self-released numerous CD projects, including recordings made at New York City’s The Knitting Factory, an on-air performance recorded at KCRW-FM, and other archival performances. Out of this creative renaissance arose “A Night For Baku“. As a distillation of their musical visions across 20 years, “A Night For Baku” is indeed a diamond in Djam Karet’s oeuvre, a true Djam Karet “classic“, and featured the addition of new band member Aaron Kenyon on bass. The title derives from Japanese folklore: the Baku are mythical inhabitants of the dream world, valiant warriors who devour nightmares as the spoils of battle. The CD features Djam Karet using more keyboards and electronics, and collaborating on one track with Electronic musician Steve Roach, who worked previously with the band on “Collaborator“.
It is this new line up as a quintet that created “Recollection Harvest“, one of their best and most melodic albums. Actually two albums on one CD, “Recollection Harvest” is divided into two chapters. The first-half is filled with their most melodic and jazzy music released so far, with a strong focus on composition and tight arrangements, Mellotrons and soulful guitar melodies. The second-half, titled, “Indian Summer“, features a collection of compositions colored with beautiful acoustic guitars and analog synths, and showcases their more atmospheric side.
In 2009 the band was flown to the Bordeaux area of France to headline the annual Crescendo Festival. Held in a huge grassy field right on the beach, this three-day progressive rock concert took place with great weather and fantastic music by all involved. With free camping and a bohemian atmosphere this was one of the group’s most enjoyable gigs. To achieve a fuller and more massive live sound, the group acquired new member Mike Murray on guitar, allowing Gayle Ellett to focus more exclusively on keyboards. When they returned to the States they decided to record “The Heavy Soul Sessions” in 2010, to better document their current live sound. In order to achieve a more lively and dynamic sound, all of the music was performed live-in-studio without any overdubs and no compressors or limiters were used during the recording process. This gives the CD a sound that is very dynamic, punchy and powerful, where the drums and bass are crystal clear and aggressive, and the guitars and keyboards are warm and inviting, and clearly demonstrates the broad and varied world that is Djam Karet.
In 2011, they formed a record label called Firepool Records in order to showcase some of the side projects of the band members (Hillmen, Henderson / Oken) and to also bring a spotlight to other USA all instrumental progressive bands (Herd of Instinct, Spoke of Shadows). They have released 6 CD’s to date!
In 2013, they released “The Trip” which was their first studio album album of all-new music in eight years! It features one single 47 minute long track, a psychedelic journey through your mind’s eye, the soundtrack of a trip to places both familiar and otherworldly. This album was widely heralded, and was chosen as “#6 Album Of The Year” by the listeners of Gagliarchives FM-Radio Show.
In 2014 the group began celebrating their 30th anniversary together!! To mark this epic moment in time, the group has released their 17th album, titled “Regenerator 3017“. Filled with all-new music, memorable melodies, wailing guitar solos, fusiony grooves, mini moogs and mellotrons, and more, it showcases a band at their fiery best!
In 2017 they released their most melodic album, “Sonic Celluloid“. Relating to the idea of “sound as cinema“, this collection of 10 tracks demonstrates the group’s ability to create “mini-movies in your mind“. With more acoustic instruments, and more mini moogs and mellotrons then on any previous album, “Sonic Celluloid” is their best produced and best sounding album to date.
Throughout the year 2017, we will see the band re-releasing re-mastered versions of older albums, as they begin work on yet another album! Stay tuned for updates.
Discography – Happy Cancer: McMusic for the McMaesses (1982) ; No Commercial Potential (1985) ; The Ritual Continues Cassette (1987) ; Kafka’s Breakfast Cassette (1988) ; Relfections From The Firepool Cassette (1989) ; The Ritual Cotntinues LP (1989) ; Reflections From The Firepool CD/LP (1989) ; Burning The Hard City Cassette (1991) ; Burning The Hard City CD (1991) ; Suspension And Displacement Cassette (1991) ; Suspension And Displacement CD (1991) ; The Ritual Contiunes CD (1993) ; Collaborator (1994) ; The Devouring (1997) ; Still No Commercial Potential (1998) ; Live at Orion (1999) ; New Dark Age (2001) ; #1 (2001) ; Ascenion (2001) ; #2 (2001) ; Afghan (2001) ; A Beginners’ Guide Volume I…Plus (2002) ; A Beginners’ Guide Volume II (2002) ; A Night For Baku (2003) ; No Commercial Potential CD (2004) ; Live at NEARfest 2001 (2004) ; Recollection Harvest (2005) ; 25th Aniversary Beginner’s Guide (2009) ; The Heavy Soul Sessions (2010) ; The Trip (2013) ; Regenerator 3017 (2014) ; Swamp Of Dreams (2015) ; Sonic Celluloid (2017) ; Kafka’s Breakfast CD (2017)
Djam Karet are – Gayle Ellett (electric & acoustic guitars, Greek bouzouki, Moog, Mellotron, Hammond & Rhodes) ; Chuck Oken, Jr. (drums, analog & digital keyboard sequencing and soundscapes) ; Henry J. Osborne (bass, 1,2,3,4,7,10) ; Mike Henderson (guitar feedback, 4,9) ; Mike Murray (guitar atmospheres, 7,9, piano, 9) ; Aaron Kenyon (bass effects, 9)
Terminology – “out of control” – I define the situation when public media of information write about your work / product / success… without you initiating it. Moved to the field of musical reviews – this is a siting when you, from anywhere in the world, get a music release for a review, and you did not explicitly ask for it. I experience this as a great honor, but also the trust in my opinion which I am giving to various music editions.
Djam Karet’s album, “Sonic Celluloid“, is an example of the foregoing introduction. The first surprise for me is that this band is existing 33 years, and the second surprise is that they have released 18 full-length albums so far.
Album, “Sonic Celluloid“, has 10 mainly instrumental songs. All the members of this band are multi-instrumentalists. By using various instruments, the music they made is full of mystical and picturesque atmosphere. Music is found on various web sites in the “Entertainment” section. Music is, by me, art and as such should be presented. The music played by Djam Karet is just a good example of this attitude. Their music is not there, in any case, to get anyone to “party“. Here it is a case of emotional and artistic expression featured with various musical instruments. It is for the listener to understand this music, get the messages that this music carries, to indulge in it by relying on its own imagination. From this it is clear that each of us will experience their music in a different, special way, but with enjoyment, it is indisputable.
I did not have an opportunity to listen to the earlier releases of Djam Karet, but judging by this album, they are first class musicians and their music has to be such. Their music has all the essential elements that make it good – beautiful melodic and harmonic lines, a variety of dynamics, rich rhythm and unexpected music solutions. Re-listening to their music works reveals the details you missed in the previous listening. Everything is there with good (proper) measure.
On the Internet, it is difficult, almost impossible, to find a common photo of the Djam Karet band members. I think they wanted to send us a clear message that their music is the most important segment of their work. They totally convinced me in that. I thank them for their music. I can say, they enriched me with a new and unmistakable musical experience.
Djam Karet – “Sonic Celluloid” – 1. Saul Says So ; 2. Forced Perspective ; 3. Long Shot ; 4. No Narration Needed ; 5. Numerous Mechanical Circles ; 6. Oceanside Exterior ; 7. Au Revoir Au Reve ; 8. Flashback ; 9. Lower ; 10. The Denouement Device
YouTube – Djam Karet – Swimming in the Big Sky – The First Spacewalk by Ed White
“Thank you so much for the positive and insightful review on our album!! We greatly aprpeciate it!! Many Thanks!! Yes, we do not show our faces often, because it really is about the music, and not about us (as people). In Djam Karet, we can try to make music as art (not commerce). Exploring concepts of theme & variation. But I ALSO write commercial music for TV & film. Here is a TV commercial I wrote and played the music for… it aired in The Netherlands. I hope you like it!!!“
Damn Tasty commercial (loods) – New York Pizza
Gayle Ellett – www.GayleEllett.com
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Tuzla, Bosna i Hercegovina
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