In 2004, Jono El Grande won the Norwegian `Hat User of the Year' award. As amusing as this sounds, it isn't particularly surprising given the man's reputation for eccentric live shows, which usually involve outlandish costumes and often take their cue from Dadaist performance art. And it's Dadaism that's most instructive when approaching his second full-length album, not least because it's titled `Neo Dada.' Because like the movement from which it takes much of its inspiration, `Neo Dada' appears to reject conventionalities such as logic and reason in favour of a wholehearted embrace of irrationality and surrealism. It's a genre-bender of an album, belonging to a tradition stretching back to the likes of Zappa and Beefheart, and it won't be assimilated without a fight.
Beginning with the title track, Jono El Grande (real name Jon Andreas Håtun) and his accompanying band drag us into an often vivacious, sometimes gloomy, and sometimes tragic-comic world of saxophones, keyboards, strings and guitars playing odd-time melodies and riffs in dense, careering compositions. Fortunately, he knows how to direct his sometimes schizophrenic creations (although just as Jung said about Dadaism, they may be too idiotic to be schizophrenic) into satisfying progressions with satisfying endings. This is especially evident on the title track, which after a jumpy tour through claustrophobic violins, tense vibraphone and funereal guitar reaches a hushed, secretive bridge of saxophone that's gradually lifted by a building drum roll into a screeching, staccato finale.
After this relatively uniform number however, all the succeeding pieces become more sprawling and stylistically multifarious. This is hardly a problem in itself, but some may find the genres delved into a little outdated and tasteless. Track 2, `Ballet Morbido in a Dozen Tiny Movements,' begins with an intro of vaudevillian piano before taking in, among many others, the Canterbury Scene via some courtly harpsichord and medieval guitar. Even though El Grande seamlessly weaves each phrase and movement into the other with patience and fluency, everything on this track sounds a little kitsch, particularly his wordless, jabbering vocals, and in the end it all may come down to how much you enjoy irony.
But `Neo Dada' is redeemed not only by its unwillingness to take itself too seriously, but also by its irrepressible exuberance. `Three Variations on a Mainstream Neurosis,' with its zippy riff in 5/8, sounds like the demented theme tune to some comic book television series, and it sees El Grande's guitar trade off with kinetic horns and then at one point brilliantly mirror the rising-falling notes of a crazed slide whistle. There's a comparable abundance of energy in `Oslo City Suite,' whose bobbing sax and rapid-fire violin simmer and sweat with an oddball tension that finds its release in a `70s-tinged 6/4 riff. And there's no getting away from the fact that the music on the album is in the main very tightly composed, with `Your Mother Eats Like a Platypus' - a stylistically unified track reminiscent of something a Bartok string quartet might produce - proving that El Grande has a firm grasp of dynamics and drama.
So `Neo Dada,' despite its occasional contempt for fashionable taste, is an effervescent, colourful and intricately crafted album. It's also one well worthy of winning the award of `Best Album Associated with A Previous Winner of A Norwegian Hat User of the Year Award.' (Simon Chandler)
For fans of; Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Henry Cow, Gong, Magma, Mr. Bungle, Todd Rundgren, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Icy Demons, EstradasphereRead more ›