SAM (SLICK ALEXIUS MENNIGMANN) — Another Life (review)

SAM (SLICK ALEXIUS MENNIGMANN) — Another Life album cover Album · 2013 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
More than forty years ago, a then unknown American jazz-rock band with a pronounced horn section debuted with a double album that mixed raw instrumental jams with artsy pop tunes - and it opened up stairways to stardom. During the following decades, some artists have tried to repeat Chicago Transit Authority's brave trick, but usually without success. The German-American trio, SAM, debuted just a few weeks ago with a double album as well - or in today's world, that means a double CD with 160 minutes of music, and it is fully improvised. What is this - a naive step or risky business?

SAM is not your typical left-field DIY homegrown enthusiasts trying to introduce the world to any sound they were able to produce out of their kitchen. German Chapman Stick player Marc Mennigmann and guitarist Peter Alexius have decades of musical experience, and American bassist Julie Slick is a member of Adrian Belew's Power trio. .

"Another Life" opens with a controlled distorted bass boosting high energy vibes which may remind you of this trio's obvious influence - 80s King Crimson music. But, very soon you will find that they are far from a KC clone. In fact, this trio's compositions are perfectly organized and framed for improvised music. They use German krautrock repetitive schemes (slightly psychedelic in moments), Fripp-Belew era King Crimson angular guitar/Stick constructions and free jazz improvisational freedom transformed via complex free-rock virtuosity to produce a unique mix (progressive free-rock?). Opposite to jamming, SAM's music sounds like a well engineered art engine, generating ideas and fulfilling them at the same time with solidity and professionalism.

Don't be afraid of the huge amount of improvised music you will need to listen to - generally this album sounds like it contains composed material, sort of a free form well organised suite. You don't know where all this started, nor what is the final target, but there is not even a short moment that sounds directionless. The fantastic thing is that during the entire 160 minutes, something is always happening, you never have a chance to become bored!

I own an expensive French Cabassi audio/hi-fi system in my car, which is almost useless most of time - its rare when music sounds really great on it. Regular radio stations broadcast music with lots of middle frequencies in the mix which sounds flat and plasticky as on any cheap mp3 player. Only rare acoustic and aerial music with clear high and low ends and great instrument separation in the sound mix creates a miracle - in a car you feel like you are in a live concert. A few weeks ago, when traveling for a longer trip, by chance I listened to the radio play early Bill Evans albums - the music sounded fantastic! I tried to play "Another Life" in my car another day - and it works!

I see this album as being the ideal companion to any advanced improvisational rock or jazz rock lover on his longer autobahn trip - and I am really going to try to listen to this album in full on my nearest planned 3-hours long trip to the seaside coming up this September. Back to the music - it sounds like a perfect product of German engineering, the musical companion to a BMW sedan, well balanced, energetic, enthusiastic, full of controlled power, reliable but not dry or pedantic at all.
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