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The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble: Like Tears In Rain

Updated: Mar 30, 2019

Rotunda, Krakow, 8/11/09

Rotunda was not exactly packed to the rafters for this evening’s niche performers, an eclectic and terribly serious bunch based in the Netherlands but comprising seven members from the Uk, Switzerland and France. In fact, there was even room at the bar to sit down and have a pint pre-gig; a few earnest-looking intellectuals scattered around. Krakow had clearly not been forewarned of these avante-garde purveyors of gloom. Or maybe they had. Dark jazz, doom jazz, gothic jazz – whatever you choose to call this most obscure of sub-genres, it is as far removed from what you might imagine ‘jazz’ to be; arguably, it has more in common with Bladerunner than Miles Davis. This is the first time TKDE have played in Poland, and indeed, so hermit-like are they that this is one of the first tours they have done, despite being together for four years. The band stand at the intersection of jazz, electronic music, and ambient music, and was inspired by the silent movies of Fritz Lang and F.W Marnau; they create music which can only be described as, well, dark. Tonight, they were intent on painting it black, as they played tracks from their two studio albums and latest E.P ‘Mutations’.

Trombonist Hilary Jeffrey claimed that the music is a “soundscape for a movie we have in our heads”; so, an audience for the band’s mind collected and took their seats politely as the band shuffled onstage, as if to a cinema screening. What were they expecting exactly? What can a band like this deliver live? This question hung in the air as the band proceeded into their first composition, a ten-minute, lumbering beast called ‘Lead Squid’. It’s odd watching a band perform in near-darkness, and it certainly made life difficult for the photographers present. As the eerie music floated over the audience however, something began to take hold; the introduction of a vocal in the second song as French songstress Charlotte Cegarra came out from the shadows lent extra depth and beauty to proceedings.

Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Krakow, 2009
The band performed in near-darkness throughout

A cinema screen behind the band accompanied the music and the images were reminiscent of ‘Eraserhead’; the Lynchian quality of the music is unmistakable, and this was confirmed in ‘Serpent’, which samples ‘In Heaven’, a song used in that film. Odd and disturbing, the bizarre animations certainly enhanced the music’s odd rhythms and staccato beats. They also brought to mind some of Czech animator Jan Svankmeijer’s weirder creations. ‘Shadows’, with a whispery vocal and layered drumbeats, was reminiscent of Bonobo or maybe Portishead; more trippy and less hoppy than trip hop this may be, but the roots of this sound certainly seem to be tied in with 90’s ambiance and electronica, more so than any jazz influence.

Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Krakow, 2009
A screen behind the band displayed images reminiscent of ‘Eraserhead’

As the evening progressed, a kind of collective sleepiness and deep introspection seemed to seep through the concert hall; as the gothic images flickered before their eyes, they seemed transfixed: nightmarish visions and creepy post-rock music combining to create a brooding atmosphere of silent contemplation, if not anxiety and dread. ‘The Nothing Changes’, with its looped drumbeats and insistent refrain; ‘Lobby’, with a more heavy electronic feel and melodic violin accompaniment. Polite applause between tracks; audience either hypnotized or freaked out. Half of the quintet (trimmed down from seven tonight) hid behind their Applemacs for much of this anti-performance; allowing the music to transport the audience to a foggy and spacious place – songs flowing unperturbed by time slowly from A to B and maybe back again. The somnolent quality of the music brought to mind empty city streets at night, derelict buildings, a post-apocolyptic wasteland. If music and film is the poetry and fiction of the modern world, this is T.S Eliot or George Orwell as filmed by David Lynch or Ridley Scott. In the rain.

Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Krakow, 2009
Music to soundtrack T.S Eliot or George Orwell. In the rain.

So to the encore; a band like this shouldn’t really do encores, but somehow they trudged back onstage for a ten-minute jam which looked largely improvised; not a tune that had appeared on any of their albums anyway. Self-indulgent? Mais Oui. But if you can excuse them for that, and for their stroppy refusal to acknowledge the audience, save for a brief wave as they disappeared into the darkness at the end, you are left with a band which has much to offer. Sure, it’s music you would probably be better off listening to alone in a room lit by candles and something herbal by your side; but if you want to lose sense of time and place for an hour or so and transport yourself to another (perhaps disturbing) reality, this is really a band worth listening to. To paraphrase ‘Bladerunner’: they make you see things you people wouldn’t believe – and all these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Photos: Jamie Howard

Here are some samples of KDJE's work. Listen only when it's dark.

Lead Squid


Mists of Krakatoa

Black Wings


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