Monday, January 10, 2022

Causa Sui - Szabodelico

The Danish quartet Causa Sui is an instrumental band that goes out of its way to defy categorization. Neither the sum of its influences – psych rock, Krautrock, indie rock, spiritual jazz, what have you – nor the result of a successful (or any) formula, Causa Sui is an exceptionally refreshing way to experience electric music.

Since 2005, Causa Sui – whose name comes from a Latin phrase that beautifully suggests a thing which generates something from within itself – has waxed eight discs of largely instrumental music. The band consists of Jakob Skøtt (who also produces much of the band’s artwork), Jonas Munk, Jess Kahr and Rasmus Rasmussen. In true deference to the group’s name, none are credited as individual instrumentalists and no one person is identified as composer of the band’s music.

Causa Sui claims its sound “owes as much to (70s-era) Miles Davis and (70s Krautrock pioneers) Can as to American stoner-rock,” which probably means jam bands like Gov’t Mule, Phish, the Allman Brothers and, of course, the Grateful Dead. To these ears, there’s much more going on here. There’s an elegant European sensibility that sharpens the group’s metallic edges and refines its jazz-like approach. Causa Sui has the rawness of renewal I attribute to fellow Danes Ibrahim Electric as well as an effective approach to ”jazz rock” that probably hasn’t been heard in at least half a century.

By all accounts, the band’s 2020 double album (single disc) Szabodelico is a departure, if not a new high on Causa Sui’s multi-year continuum. While previous efforts were workshopped or meticulously composed, Szabodelico was largely improvised. “Each track was put together from improvisations,” Jonas Munk told DenpaFuzz. “At no point did we talk, or plan, where to go, and no one told anyone what to play.”

Given its on-the-spot invention over lengthy sessions recorded between 2019 and 2020, emerges as one of the band’s most compelling and melodic statements to date. While the album gets its name from jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo, it is inspired more by the guitar legend’s approach to music than by his distinctive sound or iconic songbook.

Szabo, like Causa Sui on Szabodelico, conjured most of his best and best-known music on-the-spot right in the studio. On the bandstand, Szabo was also one of music’s most gifted storytellers, able to craft dramatic solos with a gypsy (or folk) flavor and hypnotic fervor. Szabodelico doesn’t mine or mimic Szabo so much as channel him – and it’s all the better for it.

Other than namechecking Gabor Szabo on “Gabor’s Path” and “Szabodelico,” the closest this record gets to appropriating the guitarist is on “Vibratone,” which launches itself off a variation of “Gypsy Queen,” and the title song, seemingly built upon a “Passin’ Thru”-like foundation. “Laetitia” – along with “Sole Elettrico,” among the disc’s best tracks (both also featuring Jans Aagaard on Bansuri Flute) – revels in the spacey 70s-era Charles Lloyd, a frequent Szabo associate.

The melancholy “Honeydew,” like Santana’s 1972 “Song of the Wind,” feels like the offspring of Bobby Womack’s “Breezin,” infused here with the ballad “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” which Szabo covered in 1970.

To Causa Sui’s credit, Szabodelico relies more on Szabo the muse than Gabor the musician. Over a baker’s dozen songs – with evocative titles like “Echoes of Light” and “Merging Waters” that could have come right out of a film-music library or a David Lynch soundtrack – the band paints psychedelic soundscapes that have a positively hypnotic draw.

Here, though, the band evinces a newfound focus on melody. Whether or not this, too, was inspired – or as delico indicates, revealed or clarified – by Szabo’s influence, only the band can say. (I think it is.)

Szabodelico, more than previous efforts, tempers tension-building and repetition – qualities which, to this writer, are positive and make Causa Sui’s work in the collective as compelling and appealing as, say, Philip Glass’s film music or Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin – with a welcome amount of reflection and rumination.

As ever, the four players are especially sensitive to one another; each responding to the other with an engaging empathy and musical invention that is positively beguiling. Little wonder that Causa Sui is such a draw live – an appeal to anyone who likes the exploratory sides of rock, (electric) jazz and the blues.

If this is, as they say, “stoner rock,” consider me stoned.

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