CD review

John Ghost – “Airships Are Organisms”

John Ghost – Airships Are Organisms
(SDBANUCD11. CD review by Dick Hovenga*)

Flemish sextet John Ghost deserves all of our attention. Their debut album, For A Year They Slept, made quite the impression when it was released in April 2016. On their second album, Airships Are Organisms, these talented musicians show they have undergone such massive growth, it borders on the unbelievable.

We knew their second album would constitute a giant step forward; that much could be seen and heard during their performance at Belgian Jazz Meeting in Ghent. This band is growing steadily, maybe precisely because all members are also active in musically challenging side-projects.

The group’s musical architect is Jo de Geest. His name roughly translates as ‘John Ghost’. No wonder. De Geest has a rich musical mind that guides the band into an intriguing musical direction. He loves jazz and manages to combine its influence, rather fascinatingly, with minimal, electronic, rock and alternative music. In his fellow band members he found the perfect musicians to perform his music with: saxophone/flute/clarinet player Rob Banken, vibraphonist/marimba player Wim Seger, keyboardist Karel Cuelenaere, bassist Lieven van Pee, and drummer Elias Devoldere.

In our opinion the Belgian jazz world is just as interesting as the (deservedly) celebrated young jazz scene in England. Although there’s a difference: the Flemish jazz scene seems to be able to dive deeper into the core of jazz, while simultaneously pushing it aside quite adamantly. Adventure is key here, and challenge has the final word. Jo de Geest has an exceptional, dare I say genius, musical mind.

Airships Are Organisms is an extraordinary musical trip. The cover gives it away before you even hear the music. This album is so original and bubbly, not many albums out there can compete. John Ghost presents us with music without borders. They let you experience anything they want to experience themselves. Airships Are Organisms is unpredictable in every way. It intertwines, overwhelms, and is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Extraordinary musicianship.

Take the magnificently extended track Deconstructing Hymns, the album opener. Expressly released as first track of the album, it sets the standard and makes it clear, right from the get-go, where this new album is headed. It’s as impressive as you want music to be, an exciting atmospheric opening track, with heavenly vibraphone in the lead, that slowly unwinds until it reaches stylish yet overwhelming heights.

The band manages to extend this high with the lushly driven and fabulously played title track, followed by Disfunctional Rabbits: The Disfunction. They are equally impressive tracks. The album has so, so much going on, yet at the same time sounds quite structured, logical. Its sheer musicality dazzles; it has everything we want from music. The first half of Airships Are Organisms is unpredictable, dynamic, adventurous, playfully fun, presents a fluently playing band, has great atmosphere, and shows great musical prowess. This is by far the best album side to have been released this year.

And yes, the B side doesn’t let go of this, it continues to grab us by the hair, with Disfunctional Rabbits: The Rabbits. And so the album masterfully hops onward. This is a nicely tensioned and highly complex, well thought-out composition. Next, The Fallen Colony bounces the other way, with a fine cinematic ambience and sultry build-up. This track creates ample space for the band’s impressive musical skills. The rattling drums form the basis for vibraphone, guitar (De Geest himself), and saxophone, after which bass and drums expressly move from staccato to fluent, with lovely keys. Yet another wonderful highlight.

Time/Traveler is driven by keyboard sounds and a prominent vibraphone. What a treat. It keeps changing colour, then builds up to great sax and guitar parts accompanied by a pumping bass and richly varied drum patterns. The atmospheric warm blanket that is Drones For a Sunken Mothership makes for a perfect album ending, leaving us in trance, almost. This intricate accumulation is wonderful, building up to a tear-jerking grand finale. As you experience this track, you suddenly realise the album you have been listening to for the past hour is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Airships Are Organisms is not only a highlight in Belgian music history. In time this album will no doubt be regarded an international musical milestone. Fabulous musical growth, fabulous album, fabulous band.

Dick Hovenga’s original review appeared in Dutch at Written in Music

Translation by Nausikaä de Blaauw

Categories: CD review

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