Ikarus – Plasma

Zurich based contemporary groove jazz quintet Ikarus return with album number four, adding to their impressive catalogue which started with the auspicious 2015 debut Echo, Chronosome a year later and then the wonderfully captivating Mosaismic in 2019. Key to the success of Ikarus’ progression, I suggest, is the stable line-up led by composer and drummer Ramón Oliveras, along with Mo Meyer on upright bass and Lucca Fries on piano. Also paramount to the Ikarus sound are the vocals, featuring the ever-present Andreas Lareida, the only change is Anna Hirsch who took over from Stefanie Suhner for the Mosaismic album, and here on Plasma.

As with all Ikarus’ albums, each and every detail is considered, just like a Swiss watch where precision and flair go hand in hand. So if we look at the album titles, Chronosome plays on Greek mythology, Chronos (“the personification of time”) and Chromosome (DNA). Equally, Mosaismic is derived from the words “mosaic” and “seismic”. Plasma, one of the four fundamental states of matter – an ever evolving soup – is a suitable title for the fourth album from this constantly challenging quintet. Continuing the theme, the album opens with Tritium, being one of only three radioactive isotopes of hydrogen. I think we need some music…

As indicated in my review of Mosaismic, Ikarus are a tricky band to ‘label’, not that we necessarily need to label them, but it may offer guidance to potential listeners, especially as Ikarus are a rather unique ensemble. Precise jazz (you just made that up) might be a possible pointer. Certainly Ikarus exist in jazz circles, drawing on the spontaneity of jazz but then the music is carefully crafted and refined, without losing its enigmatic qualities. I suppose we must hark back to that attention to detail – a place for everything and everything in its place.

Tritium is a splendid introduction to the album with its percussive polyrhythmic grooves set against the haunting, immersive, but oddly soothing wordless vocals. Equally, the vocal harmonies shine throughout second track Isblink; a masterclass in less is more, gradually rising from its minimal beginnings, with particular note here for Mo Meyer’s speaker rattling bass. I know it’s an upright, and it sounds like an upright, but there’s an added depth and growl that makes it quite fascinating and intriguing. Equally fascinating is the multi-cultural dialogue offered across the album’s longest piece, the truly mesermernotic Sessapinae. Mesermernotic? Just following Ikarus’ play on words – mesmerising and hypnotic 😉 .

Once again Ikarus have released their latest offering on Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin Rhythm Records label, which not only hosts Nick’s solo and collaborative projects, but also focusses on supporting “creative music between new minimal, funk und ritual groove music”, thus making Ikarus a perfect fit. As with all RRR releases, the mixing is precise and the production is crystal clear. Something we can hear across Plasma, and no better captured during my current favourite track from the album, the wonderfully infectious Cocoro. Multi-layered, rhythmical vocals, act as a fitting precursor to the band who bustle along in a strange marriage of syncopation and undulation. Deft touches, with the odd ripple of keys from Lucca Fries, set the scene for this compelling extravaganza. Particularly effective here is the vocal arrangement from Anna Hirsch and Andreas Lareida. The album closes with metric ambiguities of Altaelva – one to get the feet tapping, albeit rather spasmodically. A wonderfully disconcerting track that is equally challenging as it is impassioned. Altaelva may not be an easy listen, but absolutely captivating from start to finish.

Having followed Ikarus for a number of years now, I have always been intrigued how faithfully they are able to reproduce their music in a live environment – fascinating to watch, albeit on YouTube. Sadly there’s no live footage of the Plasma tracks, as we still emerge from the ‘lockdown years’, but I am looking forward to ‘visual versions’ of Plasma at some point.

01. Tritium (7:47)
02. Isblink (7:30)
03. Sessapinae (9:57)
04. Cocoro (6:54)
05. Altaelva (7:27)

Total Time – 39:35

Anna Hirsch – Vocals
Andreas Lareida – Vocals
Lucca Fries – Piano
Mo Meyer – Bass
Ramón Oliveras – Drums

Record Label: Ronin Rhythm Records
Country of Origin: Switzerland
Date of Release: 25th February 2022

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