After the Last Stroke is the seventh album by German multi-instrumentalist Hans Jörg Schmitz, who releases solo albums under the curious soubriquet ‘King of Agogik’. This name came from a humourous exchange experienced by Schmitz when he was playing with a covers band (the graphically named ‘The Assholes’!) when the guitar player stopped playing in the middle of a solo because the roar of the drums ‘killed’ him. Thus, the ‘King of Agogik’ was born as ‘Agogik’ apparently means nothing more than ‘the art of changing speed’. It’s a peculiar name for a peculiar project which throws rock, jazz, fusion, world music amongst other styles into a cement mixer which sometimes flows smoothly and sometimes just ‘splurges’ out unpredictably.
The album starts with a gentle piano interrupted by a sudden drum break and then a mellotron wave in The White Raven. Dialogue can be heard about ‘The Summer of Love’ in 1967 as keyboards and bursts of guitar psychedelically whirl around choral vocals. The CD booklet helpfully explains that it is about Kees Hoekert who was an ‘everlasting hippie’ and rebel who fought for the legalisation of cannabis in the Netherlands, and lived on his houseboat ‘De Witte Raaf’ (the White Raven) until his death. Whatever the inspiration it’s a rather ‘out there’ start to the album. As an instrumental album the sleeve notes are interesting in giving the listener some insights in to the inspirations behind these pieces.
If we thought we knew where we were going with The White Raven then that illusion is shattered by the very different epic A Day without End, which features Steve Unruh of The Samurai of Prog on flute, violin and guitar. Hans Jörg Schmitz has also recently worked with Steve Unruh on the recent United Progressive Fraternity album (reviewed HERE). A Day without End is a real highlight of the album, and feels like a class progressive rock epic without the lyrics. A weird synth opening combines with a harpsichord like melody with Unruh’s evocative flutes floating around ethereally before the drums kick in and the flute takes on a Jethro Tull like feel. The versatile Unruh then plays a delicate violin line which is then taken up by an electric guitar – these sounds interweave pastorally and it conveys the feeling of a beautiful summer’s day. This atmosphere is transformed by a percussive build with a guitar and lead violin interspersed with shrill bird like flights of flute… and this intricate musical journey continues down many more paths in it’s 20 minutes plus span. It’s an outstanding instrumental which just includes so much… maybe too much at times? Dedicated ‘to all those whose lives were stolen from this earth, all those who were unable to live their day to day lives in peace and freedom, all those who met their maker far too soon’, this is a piece of hope and love, presumably imagining them at rest to whom Schmitz wishes them ‘a new day… without an end…’ This is an uplifting, complex but engaging piece which does successfully convey a positive, joyful, playful and unusual atmosphere redolent of Peace. Towards the end it fades to simple chiming Yes-like acoustic guitars suggesting a beautiful setting sun.
The musical radar is all over the place again for Gannef which goes off in a completely different direction. ‘Gannef’ means ‘Thief’ in the Dutch language (from Yiddish’) which may suggest Schmitz’s explanation that he has adapted some sequences drawn from the Klezmer ensemble ‘Kolsimcha’. He was inspired to do so by the gifted jazz drummer Fabian Kuratli, whom he describes as an ‘exorbitant rhythmician’ , who played with Kolsimcha but who tragically died aged only 38 years. It’s a jazzy sort of klezmer , strange and jarring in places but also strangely hypnotic, including some stellar drumming from Schmitz, echoing the tour de force earlier drumming solo of Carbon Soot.
Where would one go after some Klezmer inflected jazz? Well, obviously you would then slide languorously in to an early Genesis, classic ‘Prog’ 12 string sound over which flutter a range of keyboards, from the gentle to the odd and quirky, and clarinet… or possibly not! In any case that’s where the King of Agogik takes us next, displaying his penchant for indulging in a varied range of styles. With that sort of musical palette it comes as no surprise to read in the sleeve notes that it is inspired by ‘Woolly’ Wolstenholme of Barclay James Harvest and the early 70’s pastoral, bucolic style of that band.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, the King of Agogik are simply not going to go where you might expect on the next song, Plug in – Plaques out, which starts with Spanish radio dialogue, and then with furious guitars from Dago Wilms we are plunged deep down in to pure post-2000 Porcupine Tree territory. Throbbing banks of keys battle with walls of guitar in an unrestricted, unpredictable and seemingly intuitive piece. This is exciting, crisp and powerful with snare drums and snake like synth runs resonating in abundance before another short drum solo. We never seem to be too far away from a drum solo with Mr Schmitz around… but it’s short, punchy and totally in keeping with the panzer like crushing progress. Throw in coruscating guitars turning to Floydian chords, creaking door sounds and a plethora of other instruments and effects and you have a remarkable instrumental, apparently dedicated to unsung scientists whom should be remembered. What C3PO from Star Wars is doing being quoted at the end is anyone’s guess, but who cares ? – it’s C3PO!
The album should ideally end with the eerie Back in the Second Line, featuring news lines and quotes about various figures such as Frank Zappa, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Hardy, Stephen Hawking and John Lennon amongst many others. An ambient synth and guitar underpins the quotes, threaded through with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer… and just when you think it can’t get any weirder at the conclusion right out of left field comes a military drum beat with horn like synths, bagpipe noises and Eastern style instrumentation. How that conclusion is linked to the earlier quotes is hard to fathom, but it’s typical of this whole album which twists and turns in such surprising and refreshingly unrestricted ways. Unfortunately from this reviewer’s perspective the album did not end their but ploughed on into the Retromatic Lullaby, which is a keyboard / synth over-indulgence filled with corny keyboard sounds which frankly sounds horrible – the sort of electronic music low budget 60’s Sci-Fi films used to try to sound spacey and futuristic – it’s dated and entirely redundant in the context of this album. However, we will not let one rather bizarre piece wipe out the memory of the rest of this interesting album… I just edited it off my i-pod, but others may love it!
If you are looking for unpredictable and skilfully played instrumental rock which combines a wealth of influences from Jazz, Fusion and Klezmer to Rock, ‘Prog’, Classical and World music… and you don’t mind ‘the art of changing speed’ then hang on tightly to your hat and your underwear, and pay homage to the King of Agogik’s After the Last Stroke.
01. The White Raven (6:37)
02. A Day Without End (20:30)
03. Carbon Soot (2:49)
04. Gannef (11:08)
05. Patterns On The Water (6:16)
06. Plug In – Plaques Out (10:37)
07. Watching The Moon (1:15)
08. Back In The Second Line (3:38)
09. Retromatic Lullaby (13:54)
Total Time: – 76:54
Hans Jörg Schmitz – Drums, Keyboards & Guitar (All Tracks)
Peter Simon – Oboe, Brass & Woodwind (All Tracks except 3 & 6)
Steve Unruh – Flute, Violin & Guitar (2)
Dago Wilms – Guitars (1 & 8) & Guitar and Bass (6)
Erik Vaxjo – Mellotron (1)
Enno Nilson – Keyboards (1)
Gary Farmer – Rickenbacker Bass (1, 2 & 9)
Alanda Scapes – Voice (4)
Philipp Schmitz – Piano (4) & Keyboard (7)
Jeffrey Harlington – Double Bass (4 & 7)
Johannes Andrè – Les Paul Guitar (4)
Andrew Marshall – 12 String Guitar (4)
Scott Taylor – Uilleann Pipes (8)
Record Label: sAUsTARK Records
Country Of Origin: Germany
Date of Release : 30th March 2019
Membraphonic Experience (2006)
Aleatorik System (2008)
The Rhythmic Drawing Room (2009)
From A to A (2011)
Exlex Beats (2014)
Morning Star (2017)
After the Last Stroke (2019)