I'm writing this review during the "holiday season" in the United States. It's a time of year when, despite grim winter weather, long work shifts, rampant overblown consumerism and never-ending events calling for enforced happiness, one is expected to be "jolly" at all times. To top it off, a series of badly re-recycled Christmas songs fill the air wherever you go, like a cloud of colorless suffocating haze. It's enough to turn a seemingly well adjusted person into a scuttling agoraphobic.
But there's a cure. Just take Kozo's 1999 release Planned Penetration out of its gray-purple case, place it in your CD player and hit play. Then relax to the unforced and moody sounds of programmed percussion breakbeats, synthesized bass lines and somber trumpet riffs.
The opening track, "Room Service," starts with the cycling mechanics of drumbeats and bass, before multitracked trumpet appears to provide the main thrust, underpinned by subtle keyboards. "Touch" runs through a series of high-energy, nearly techno dance beats, but the melancholy horn here grounds the construction in reality, like an aloof figure in black striding through a hot and noisy club. Brief sampled vocals and wind effects add to the feel of physical place. Midway through the disc, the short "Voodoo" features a strong and ominous rhythm line of treated beats, with the trumpet lurking somewhere behind it in the distance.
These pinpointed impressions aside, the tracks on Planned Penetration often blend into one another without highly noticeable shifts, flowing in long sequences of electronic percussion effects that continually switch from foreground to background and from one treated beat to another, braced by smooth bass support and always featuring the effects-treated riffs of brass.
Kozo is actually a one-man band of Kozo Ikeno, and Ikeno's horn parts themselves do not necessarily come across with great virtuosity. There's a tendency to filter and echo the lines, and sometimes it sounds vaguely like Ikeno is playing somewhere down the hall. Since instrumental prowess is not the focus here, this isn't as problematic as it might seem. Regardless, the music does suffer somewhat under intense scrutiny simply because of a mild lack of depth in specific aspects of playing. An experienced jazz purist, which I admittedly am not, might find this a more severe criticism. Still, even to a less strict ear, the sameness of the overall sound can prove a bit wearying after 67 minutes.
But above all, Kozo excels in forming soundscapes, sometimes nearly ambient or techno combinations of machines and brass. Planned Penetration is almost a soundtrack for a film you can imagine for yourself, one as gloomy or bleak as you like, where you can let the world fall into your shooting script wherever it seems to fit.
Sometimes you need darkness to let you truly appreciate the light, and sometimes acknowledging the gloom can be downright liberating. Who knows, after a few rotations of Planned Penetration, maybe that holiday party won't seem so completely saccharine after all. Let it snow indeed -- and damn the cost.
[ by Ken Fasimpaur ]