Heerlens Percussie Ensemble - Biologic Music (Hot Mule, 2020)

The latest from Hot Mule sees the release of an absolute gem that emphasises mythic rhythms and hypnotic melodies in the most unique and grounded way imaginable.

Sometimes music really bonds with the essences of life itself. The ebbs of flows of natural states, ecosystems and even urban tones are one which we often seek connection with, be it the friendly faces of strangers or the never ending vistas that spark the imagination. We are but a small presence in a world where comprehension is around the corner, you just have to go out there and experience it. Sometimes its obvious, with a new place that overwhelms with its sheer beauty and elegance, or a familiar surrounding that conjures up memory, but it is something which we all strive for. A sense of place. Sometimes, within music, we feel that sense of life through the experiencing of tunes that are new and refreshing, a new facet to our understanding of sound and texture, that it feels interconnected with life itself. Our musical explorations are aided by those records that simply make us think 'wow', encouraging us to delve deeper and get to know things and systems that we may have not heard before; to revisit that which demands revisiting, to connect the dots that merely existed before, but now have presence. These sorts of musical enrichments give us a sense of comfort and pleasure, an insight into a world that contains so many wonders of rhythms that it very much feels like the long widing vista, the complex invisible ecosystem, or that friendly strangers face.

At a first listen, this wonderful reissue by the ever impressive Hot Mule label smacks of all those qualities, and then some. The group were assembled in 1973 by Jelmo Piovesana, a prominent figure in many of the music schools in the Dutch city of Heerlen. Within this setting, he nurtured and taught many of the city's finest young musicians, blending their education with lectures from significant musicians such Steve Reich, Bob Becker, Nippy Noya and Han Bennink. Through Piovesana's desire for collaboration and the creation of improvised music, he formed the group PX Marimba Sound with four students, of which Frank Rademakers and Paul Franken would later move on with Piovesana to form the group Heerlens Percussie Ensemble. Performing latin infused tracks, they quickly graduated to a more free flowing and percussive style, heralded by the arrival of John Jacobs and Maurice Schipper, by which point they had renamed the band. Over the next few years, the group would begin their forward journey through the spectrums of percussive driven landscapes, where fluid movements between tonal and beat arrangements were to become the norm. Layered and delicate approaches were made when it came to the rhythm, an approach that was pulled off masterfully by the group, through a series of live performances that also included performances in the pop, jazz and contemporary chamber music spectrum. All of these inputs, along with a now synthesised collective mind in regards to the band members, lead to the tracks found within this record. Each track gives itself over to us as an experience, an experience entrenched in global sounds but compressed through a ideology of musical excellence, and most importantly a sheer dedication to the technicalities of feel and tone. The journeys that exist within this record are expansive, never ending and seamless, a series of narratives a thousand pages thick, something to get lost within but never quite seeming lost at all. This is all due to the impeccable rhythm that binds it all together, the notion of spatial awareness that allows for us to give in but never give too much over. We are immediately drawn to the beating heart of it all, the enthusiasm and joy that drips from every note, every percussive feature, the atmosphere created by a group that relied as much on improv as much as it did care and attention. All these things pile up to an experience that is unique, immediately engaging, and above all else, vastly passionate. Without further ado, lets get into it.

The opener, ‘Kplanlogo’, begins with the softest of sounds, an emergence of the colours and spectrums we are about to experience within this record. The light taps of cymbals and over metallic percussive elements slowly converge at crossroads, gently swaying back and forth like the summer breeze, speaking to each other as they caress the spaces between. The track just screams life, interconnectivity and flow, the earth ’s pulse reaching up and touching us as we move through a warm summery scene. Next comes the title track, and with it begins the first real essence of expansion on the record. The track begins much like the first, abet now with additional melodic elements such as the xylophone that hint at perhaps a more complex ecological system underneath. The sounds are reverbed, giving the atmosphere one of exploration and the unknown, its depth provided by these core features giving the track a rich sense of place. The track mostly swells and receeds until around the 2 minute mark, when a singular cow bell brings in regularity, the cacophony of sounds giving way to the beat, and what a beat it is. The kick comes in, the congas abounding on top, we are now in full swing for sure. Its a groove to behold, and one that simply picks up the empty spaces from the intro and sets the boundaries for continued exploration. The xylophone comes swinging back in, slotting in effortlessly with all the Beaty goodness occurring underneath. The feel and tone is one of endlessness, calming, reassuring, and above all else, sheer bliss. Up next comes ‘Back to Factory’, and we start out again with the sense of tone setting we have become accustomed to with this excellent recording. The series of chimes and other worldly sounds gives way to a deep driving beat, the shakers the only element properly in the foreground at this point in time. Like something coming over the horizon line, the drums pound and dwell, before long the top half is greeted with kicks, cymbals and grooves for absolute days. Its this wonderful combo of the receding drums with the top pieces, giving the track this excellent sense of depth that really shines through. The xylophone makes its presence known, along with the bass line that hits hard through its two note progression. Before long however, the melodies take over completely, the saxophone shines right through the middle. This element takes the lead element, but what is remarkable in terms of sound is the xylophone taking the lead as what keys or piano might take in other tunes - taking the part of the chord progressions. As of this point, it is all fair game, as the saxophone just goes for it and creates a blissful sense of urgency that lifts the track entirely. Its almost unhinged solo journey is totally fitting for a track seeped in rhythmic excellence, and we are all for it.

Next comes ‘Adowa’, and we are greeted with the singular hit of a cow bell of sorts. Before long though, this is fleshed out with shakers and underlying feel, the congas hitting ever so lightly underneath. The beat progresses and swells so enormously from this point, and what makes it all the more impressive is that it began from a singular hit then began from there, a intricate and deft blend of all things rhythmic and wholesome. The track retains this Flow throughout, almost reflecting the rhythmic and complex flows of nature, or even that of the urban realm, a sense that everything has its place, however retains its own identity yet all of which contribute to an overall sense of progress and relativity. Next comes ‘Black Africa’, the mood of which begins with the sense of singularity moving through to something much more dense. The shakers are joined by congas and hi hats, again all layered perfectly, and this time represent the flows and grooves of Afro Beat, as the kick then comes in to bind all the feels together under one roof. The riddim becomes all that more progressive, the bass aligning itself with the kick, as the flow becomes infectious and concise. Then, it all cuts out, to give us the xylophone melodic progression, and that damn saxophone! Its just such a delight, and a fantastic switch up, perhaps the first properly dramatic one on the record. The track then immediately has a different feel, one where the energy of the drums Is matched toe to toe with the expressive and enthusiastic sax playing, that really lifts spirts and moves feet. It has that sort of explosive energy to it, where if this was released on the dance floor, people would REALLY move. And now, to finish it all off, we have ‘Spektakel’, that sets the tone in a different direction than the previous cuts. The intro is already more explosive, the drum fill greeting you immediately as the track opens, before descending into rhythmic sequences of hi hats, cymbals and snares, that abound with outrageous levels of intensity. The drums find their own way to break it down a tad, moving from a slight swing, growing and growing before falling away, the break downs working their magic to create those little moments of still within the rhythm. The drumming patterns just up the ante from here, going full on big band to really drive it up and create one last moment of brilliance for us to experience. It seems a fitting end to an album full of all the things that speak to us on a human level, the effortless grooves evoking a sense of times past where we collectively moved to the sound of the drum, but also installing draw out harmonies that draw on all sides of the emotive experience. Its all, from the opening shakers to the dramatic ends, enriching to the point of ecstasy, where the flow speaks to more than what is just represented in the music. It feels like life itself, living personified.

If you ever need a record to simply just take you away, then this one is certainly one to firmly consider. Within this absolute gem, we weave and turn through life's rich and never ending tapestry, a series of environments that feel expansive and otherworldly, but driven very much so by the riddims that drive the human experience and the systems that flow around us. By drawing from global influences, the group really do harness this collective well, in that we all can relate to the music and the vibe it creates, in such a broad and emotionally fulfilling way. Its music for the new age, for the here and now, and might just be this years best reissue in the process. Timeless.

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