Djam Karet: The Trip

djam_tripBack when the classic rock radio format was new, my local station announced, with great fanfare, that they would be playing the long version of “In A Gadda Da Vida” by Iron Butterfly. Not a long radio edit, but the whole 17-minute album track. Literally promo’d it for a week like it was the Second Coming. I asked my girlfriend at the time if she’d ever heard the long version. (She was six or seven years younger than I.) She hadn’t, so when the evening came for it to be played, we went out to my car, put the seats back, turned the radio up, and stayed there, just listening, until the last note faded. I was reminded of this when dropping yet another hit of The Trip, the first all-studio album in eight years from venerable prog-ambient jam band Djam Karet, because I’d do the same thing if I was introducing someone to it–set aside 47 minutes, get comfy, and do nothing but be in the music. The Trip blends long stretches of fairly quiet, introspective, wash-filled sound-spaces with a pair of very, very solid rock jams. After opening with a little melody that comes back around at the end, the band spends about 20 minutes fiddling with small sounds, vocal drop-ins, airy drones, electronic twiddle, and guitar, all folded into a meditative and deeply detailed space. The mood turns just before the 15-minute mark, going from lulling to edged with shadow and rough edges, but never to a point of distraction and it passes to make way for the next stage. Around the 20-minute mark is the first place where The Trip steps over to the rock and roll stage to give us a little Pink Floyd homage. While Gayle Ellett lays down a bed of keyboards that would do Rick Wright proud, guitarists Mike Henderson and Mike Murray take turns scorching the landscape with riffs and runs and big, bold powerchords. Ellett takes his own solo as well, dripping melty psychedelic lines all over your brain. The whole section oozes with a great combination of head music and pure, fiery 70s guitar rock. Plus, it has a great open-jam, “You take this” feel to it as the players trade off the spotlight to keep the whole thing cruising. This portion empties out into another darkly lighted realm full of ominously pealing bells and bassist Aaron Kenyon leading us through it with slow, sinister lines. A stretch of dark ambient follows, a slow-moving, pulsing thing that gets invaded by lively electronic swirls. A vortex of sound rises and then, out of nowhere, drummer Chuck Oken, Jr. crunches in with a hey-now full-on arena-rock drum fill, Henderson and Murray dive in with powerchords, and Djam Karet bring this baby home in gorgeous prog fashion. Ellett leads the rhythm section with Hammond-sounding keys (giving you your dose of Jon Lord nostalgia) and later absolutely dominates with a soaring, spacey solo that hits just about every rock keyboard meme ever laid down. I wish I could tell you who’s who on the guitar solos, but suffice to say that both axes tear the place right the fuck up. Period. The back and forth between them and the support each offers the other is the stuff you only get from decades of chemistry. The disc ends where it began, with that happy little phrase and a quiet whoosh of wind and, if you’re at all like me, a strong urge to do that again.

Djam Karet have been at this for 29 years, and The Trip makes me very sad that I haven’t been around for the first 28. This is an exciting, deep, relaxing, funky album that is a pleasure to listen to. Keep a hand on the volume knob because although you can ease through the misty and shadowy ambient parts, you will max out your speakers on the prog. These master musicians, craft honed to an absolute razor sharpness, will see to that. This is a stunningly good disc.

Available from the Djam Karet web site.

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