Friday, January 7, 2011

In Honour Of Mick Karn

Mick Karn (bass, multi-instrumentalist; b. 1958)
The Concrete Twin (MK Music)

I titled this piece "Enough Said" because I have a feeling that many of you who read this blog are fully aware of Mick Karn. After Jaco Pastorius, Mick Karn is probably the most distinctive bass player of the last 35 years. And he has done this by never actually learning how to read music. Some people just have that creative ability in them. Not yours truly. I can't read or play an instrument with any skill whatsoever.

Mick Karn's style on the bass (specifically fretless bass) is something you truly can't believe when you first hear it. It's like an oboe, cello and a upright bass all being folded and manipulated into itself. Truly distinctive and original. Fans of Karn know his playing within seconds of the opening chords.

I will try to keep the history portion of this short.

Like many musicians, as a child, the bass wasn't his first instrument of choice. That credit goes to a variety of instruments (bassoon, violin and mouth organ). But it was shortly after a brief stint playing classical music he hooked up with what become a legendary group (and group of musicians), Japan. Japan included David Sylvian, Richard Barbieri, Steve Jansen (and briefly Rob Dean). Japan's short-lived but highly influential career turned each member into instant legends. The bands ability to craft a blend of atmospherics, East/West aesthetics into a rhythmically accessible language captivated cult audiences around the globe.

Since the unfortunate break up of Japan, Mick Karn has worked with a myriad of talented musicians including, Peter Murphy (Bauhaus), Kate Bush, Midge Ure (Ultravox), David Torn (Lonely Universe, Polytown) and Mark Isham to name a few.

Mick Karn has effortlessly shifted between rock, ambient/electronica, jazz and world. He has built a solid foundation of seven solo albums. All I highly recommend. His latest, Concrete Twin (MK Music) is wonderful work of aural sculpture. It's rich, cinematic, introspective and dense. The production is crisp and enveloping. The majority of the music is as usual played by Karn himself (with additional drum work by Pete Lockett and manipulation by Karn).

While Concrete Twin has its origins in electronics, there is also a deep sense of organics within the tunes. "Ashamed To Be A Part Of Them" opens the album on a similar path as Mick's earliest albums (Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters and Titles). As usual, Karn's bass is front and center in the mix with a gentle East Asian atmosphere surrounding the piece.

On "Yes, I've Been To France" a bit of Karn's jazz past comes to the front. The cinematic nature of the material with Lonely Universe can be felt. There are moments improvised piano and Fripp-like guitar distortion. Probably not intended but you get a sense Mick is exploring a number of different themes throughout Concrete Twin. Where his last few records have been dominated by dance orientated material.

"Tender Poison" is a beautiful piece stressing the keys and subtle excursions with drum and percussion. Emotional effective yes. But also magnificently crafted. "Vote For Lies" and "Antisocial Again?" both are delicate haunting; with eerie bass lines and treated piano movements that make for an excellent explorations into the soul.

Mick Karn continues to be one of the best bass players in all of music today. But he has become a significant writer over the last ten years as well. His compositions have become more complex and his musicianship continues be exacting. Concrete Twin is by far one his best albums in years.

A few days ago Mick Karn past away due to complications from advanced cancer; so it is even more important that people spread the news of this great and wildly overlooked talent to the wider audiences. If you are a Mick Karn fan buy a Mick Karn CD (physical if possible) and give it to someone you know will enjoy it. The least we can all do is support one of the greatest musician who has brought so much joy and creative music to our lives over the last three decades. If you are just hearing about Mick Karn through this blog--buy Concrete Twin today if you can. You won't be disappointed. Mick we will miss you.

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