Jazz is a genre you can’t really conquer. No matter how much of it you listen to, you know there will always be that one record that flips your mental image of jazz on its head. An album where this rings especially true is Mansur’s debut record, Temple. Mansur is a project by Jason Kohnen, who some may know as a former member of dark jazz projects like The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble or The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation. For this project, he is joined by Dimitry El-Demerdashi who is an ex-member of Phurpa, and Martina Horváth.
On Temple, Kohnen uses both his experience making electronic music, as well as his excellent stylistic feel for worldbuilding – which he probably built up in previous collectives – creating outstanding soundscapes and fascinating narratives seemingly with ease. This is exemplified throughout the record, but to give you a more concrete example, let’s look at the opening track, “Temple”.
What stands out immediately when listening to the album is the stylistic splits the tracks perform. Contemporary hip hop production meets electronica meets Middle Eastern jazz. The incredibly famous 808 is a staple in the production here. That’s not all though; the percussion is fed with all kinds of exotic sounds, ranging from kalimbas to substitute hi-hats to found percussion evoking feelings of nature.
Opening track “Temple” for example takes the deep and warm bass drum of the 808 and layers of gongs, bells, rainsticks, and hand clapping on top of it to create a rich but not overbearing atmosphere. This atmosphere couldn’t have been achieved with the help of conventional drums as it wouldn’t have created the open, airy space the tuned percussion leave us with.
Speaking of open and airy, the vocals provided by Horváth provide an excellent counterpoint to the music. We often talk about vocals which are being used more as an instrument, but this has never been as true as it presents itself here. Through reverb, echo, and choral effects, the vocals provide an abstract, yet human anchor in the experimental mix of electronic and analog instruments. Not understanding the lyrics has actually helped me pay more attention to the details on the sideline of the tracks, while still being led through the music by the singing.
Lastly, I want to talk about the use of various string and wind instruments used on the record. If you take a look at the description of the record, Mansur actually provides you with an overview of the instruments used. Kalimba, violin, cello, ney, erhu, zhonghu, jinhu, kemenche, dilruba, bansuri, rammerdam, double bass, and various percussive are all listed by the artist.
Some will immediately notice the interesting mixture of stringed instruments, combining erhu (Korean), kemenche (Turkish), and violin for example to make unique textures. As these instruments are bowed they have similar characteristics, but wildly different sounds. While this technique of layering sound is popular in electronic music, it works extremely well in any musical format. In the final track “Leyenda” you can hear a lot of the aforementioned instruments playing together in a languid dance, intertwining in cycles before every instrument gets the spotlight shone on them. The warm piano playing in the song’s background helps bind the song together, the drums following the pianos bass notes. It’s an exquisite example of jazz song structures coupled with electronic production techniques.
The only thing I can – or want to – complain about is the short duration of the record. Five songs with an average runtime of four minutes is all we get, but the songs are just too damn good. So I sat there listening to the track again and again and again. If you like some of the projects mentioned in the first paragraph you will like this. And if you’ve never heard a jazz record listen to this, as it’s a wonderful example of how diverse jazz can really be; though this record easily avoids simple categorization like that. And if you think you’ve heard everything, I can tell you, you truly haven’t until you heard this record. It transports you.