There can few more seismic instances in modern history than the moments Jaki Liebezeit auditioned for Can. He got the job, obviously, but when the band suggested he “drum more monotonously” they spawned the attitude that gave borth to Krautrock and much of the dance and rock music alike that followed.
Liebezeit’s hard hitting but irresistibly funky drumming style influenced everyone from The Fall and Happy Mondays to Primal Scream – they sampled his beats on their ‘Kowalski’ single – but like many artists he had moved on long before his reputation reached its peak. “People keep saying my drumming is so reduced, but there’s nothing minimalist about the way I play,” he is quoted as saying in the press release for this EP, “I just leave out the superfluous stuff.” He also discusses abandoning the standard ‘American’ drumkit in the latter part of his career, adding:: “I looked around for something different, and now I just play drums.”
Liebezeit, who passed away in January 2017 at the age of 78, followed his stint with Can with guest appearances with everyone from Michael Rother to Brian Eno and Depeche Mode. But one of his longest musical relationships was with fellow German musician Burnt Friedman, once part of early Ninja-affiliated outfit Drome and a respected producer under a number of different aliases. This four track EP features two previously unreleased tracks recorded by the pair, along with two that Friedman created with another maverick percussion wizard, João Pais Filipe from Porto in Portugal. Although one drummer – Liebezeit – is effectively twice the age of the other, there are remarkable similarities, Both have a freeform style that eschews the usual backbeat conventions in favour of head-nodding polyrhythmic hypnotism that owes something to the traditions of experimental jazz as well as what feels like the ancient codes and codas of African culture.
The two contributions recorded (in 2016) with Liebezeit are part of the pair’s Secret Rhythms concept, a project drawing on the idea of mother nature (or Eurydike) to inform its beats. ‘Eurydike’ is the more fluid of the two recordings, his drums flowing and flaring over pulsating electronic beats and a feedback-style drone which waxes and wanes throughout. ‘Star Wars’, on the other hand, is more of a stop/start affair, driven around a stuttering, sideways groove but with plenty of personality and human, idiosyncratic quirks.
The former Can drummer might be the big name, but Friedman’s electronic flourishes match his percussive thrills both in exuberance and accomplishment. ‘Eurydike’, especially, is graced by a some wonderfully delicate, gradually uncoiling synth parts that bubble away moistly.
This carefully honed and understated style carries over into the pair of Burnt Friedman & João Pais tracks. ‘Out Of Ape’ is probably the most instantly addictive thing here, a bit like listening to The Black Dog jamming live with Fela Kuti;’s rhythm section. Pais is known for building his own gongs and cymbals, and their flavour splashes itself all over both tracks. ‘Fibres Of P’ meanwhile, has a clockwork nature to its atmosphere, quirkier and more off kilter, Friedman’s analogue trimmings glowing like absorbing embers in the fire.
This EP obviously stands as a testament not only Jaki Liebezeit’s talent but also to how far he had developed and evolved as a drummer since his days with Can. But that shouldn’t take anything away from the other two talents on show here, who more than hold their own in such exalted company. Highly recommended.