Fritz Kalkbrenner: Sick Travellin'

Give Fritz Kalkbrenner credit for at least trying to individuate his musical productions from those of his electronic brethren, even if he's not totally on-the-mark in doing so. More precisely, by adding a more-than-generous amount of his own vocalizing to his sophomore collection (arriving two years after his Here Today Gone Tomorrow debut), he personalizes an instrumental sound that, while impressive enough, might have benefited from the contrast an additional vocalist or two would have brought to the project. That sameness comes all the more into focus when it emerges over the course of an overlong seventy-two-minute collection whose thirteen tracks might have been better whittled down to, say, ten. Those caveats aside, the set is a more-than-credible sequel to his recent Suol Mates mixtape compilation, an ultra-strong and wide-ranging set with Kalkbrenner's own rendering of Bill Withers' “Ruby Lee” one of many highlights. The typical Sick Travellin' track is a polished and funky club-ready affair that boasts a richly coloured blend of synthetic and acoustic sounds.

Kalkbrenner's beatsmithing skills are immediately evident in the brief intro “Sick Travellin' Pt.1,” which locks into position with a tight club groove, and the track immediately following it, “Chequer Heart Day,” impresses, too, in the way it progressively grows, layer upon layer, into a strutting funk-house throwdown. The material's also elevated by the presence of non-electronic instruments, in this case an electric guitar figure that cycles incessantly and gives the track extra propulsion. Other tracks are satisfying, too, among them “Make Me Say,” a hard-groover whose momentum Kalkbrenner intensifies with an insistent rhythmic thrust, and “By Any Means,” whose bass-prodded strut receives a delicious boost from its plaintive guitar lick.

Kalkbrenner's singing voice, which possesses a surprisingly Southern-styled twang, is used to good effect on “Get A Life,” which merges his singing with a chugging house pulse whose sparkle is nicely complemented by a six-note hook that digs into one's cranium. Also memorable is a smooth cover of Gil Scott-Heron's “Willing” that finds Kalkbrenner bringing his soulful side to the fore. He animates clubby vocal-based tracks like “No Peace Of Mind” with bass-driven grooves and enlivens the songs with tasty instrumental touches, such as a subtle dash of percussion here and Rhodes colour there. Not only are the songs distinguished by his arranging acumen, but the inclusion of real instruments played in real time gives the material a strong live feel, too.

December 2012