Z-Country Paradise “Live in Lisbon”

z-country live in lisbonJelena Kuljic — voice
Frank Gratkowski — alto sax, bass clarinet
Kalle Kalima — guitar
Oliver Potratz – electric bass
Christian Marien — drums

Leo Records ‎– CD LR 801

1. Two 13:27
2. My Little Lovelies 9:24
3. Season In Hell 6:23
4. Talking To Little Birdies 10:58
5. Clouds Gathering 8:43
6. Memories 12:04
7. Success 6:20

All compositions by Z-Country Paradise except 5 and 7 by Frank Gratkowski GEMA
Lyrics by Charles Simic (1, 4, 5) and Arthur Rimbaud (2, 3, 6).
Recorded live at the Jazz em Agosto Festival in Lisbon, Portugal on August 12, 2016 by João Paulo Nogueira.
Mixed by Wolfgang Stach, Maarwegstudio 2, Köln, Germany
Mastering by Alex Kloss
Produced by Frank Gratkowski & Leo Feigin

Front cover & Booklet Design by Dennis Hölscher
Cover photo by Oliver Potratz
Booklet photos by © Nuno Martins at Jazz em Agosto Festival, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, August 12th, 2016.

Special thanks to Kurt Gottschalk, Nuno Martins, Wolfgang Stach, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Rui Neves.

The CD comes with a 16 page photo booklet!

Liner Notes:
Something foul is afoot. We’re not sure what it is, but we know Z-Country Paradise doesn’t like it. And we expect they plan to do something about it. Or maybe they’re behind it. It’s too soon to tell. Either way, something sinister surrounds the four men and one woman who comprise the populace of Z-Country. They observe us, but they are not us. We don’t think. We don’t think.

They are, at least, from some other place. Z-Country is a place where things are the way they could be here.

Z-Country is us, our poets, our philosophies. Rimbaud and self-help tapes. Z-Country is an illusion. Paradise lost.

Z-Country holds out promise, gives hopes to the hopeless. Z-Country is the impurity of wickedness, the dreams of insomniacs, the convictions of the hypnotized. Z-Country is the future, no future, the future is you.

Z-Country is a place where monochrome grooves collide with monolithic rhythms, where riffs and chord changes are as occasional as the rain. Z-Country is a drive, pushing the no-nonsense agent provocateur, sooty and sultry. Off to the eastern side of the outdoor amphitheater stage at the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, where this witnessing occurred, in a bright red shirt and bright blue pants, was the saxophonist, a notable instrumentalist and the second striking, musical voice in this nation-state combo. It is he who convened the sessions, even if he appears the odd man out. Or is he the odd man in?

The first voice belongs to the frighteningly alluring vocalist, whom we heard sing “da da da” over and over over a groove that sounded like farm machinery, singing as if she didn’t even want to create the appearance of being interested in the music, singing as if she were the only one in the room. She wasn’t. If we may be allowed a small, personal observation, the audience seemed to sit in stunned silence, only reacting once Z-Country itself grew silent. Their applause, then, was enthusiastic.

Because Z-Country is, did we neglect to mention this?, a band, or at least has all the appearances of one, singing slinky love songs about hatred. Z-Country is art punk, post punk, post art, bluesy here, a shuffle there, even a bit of highlife jive, but none of that matters, any groove they get into is incidental. This is message with a music, some new horror I haven’t heard of yet with a hint of a happy ending.

Z-Country has come to wash your feet, to disavow you of your sentiments, to disinter the government, to dismember a rodent if they have to. We are not in Z-Country Paradise, not yet, but if we shut up and listen, they might just tell us how to get there.

— Kurt Gottschalk, NYC, 2017

Reviewed by Ken Cheetham:

A post-punk, electric quintet whose leader in Frank Gratkowski seems hell-bent on putting together a hard rock punk outfit to complement his gaunt and rangy recitations of poetry by Jean-Arthur Rimbaud. The music is hard-edged and improvised, brittle and complex.

Jelena Kuljic is the perfect choice for these irreverent vocals, her performance like a knife sharpening on a steel, tempered by the occasional softness of melting, bitter chocolate.

The audience at this live performance was delighted with the new breath generated and the energy expended in making this music in the avant-garde to which Gratkowski is no stranger – he who has reflected on both John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen in the same season. The warm reception records a gratifying, happy meeting between givers and receivers: the undulating free-form of this performance could contend with any in initiative, profundity, and sheer exhilaration.

This is a wonderful record and highly recommended, white-knuckle avant-garde jazz, with powerful conformations presented by fiercely devoted performers.

Review by GLENN ASTARITA in allaboutjazz.com september 2018:

The multinational quintet revs up the audience on this wild and scruffy excursion that skirts a misty demarcation between punk jazz and avant-garde improvisation along with off-kilter jazz rock tendencies. Vocalist Jelena Kuljic’s guileful and emotive iterations instill hip, Beat Generation-like narratives in concert with the band’s jarring and edgy grooves via some recoiling breakouts and oscillating storylines.

Indeed, the formidable frontline of esteemed reedman, Frank Gratkowski—a longtime Leo Records artist—and ace guitarist Kalle Kalima infuse their distinct styles into these snaky, rough-hewn pieces. Moreover, the presentation is designed with fluctuating mini-themes and a ballsy high-impact impetus, occasionally transforming into a runaway force, and outlined with jagged edges.

On “Talking to Little Birdies” Gratkowski, (bass clarinet) and Kalima execute foreboding unison choruses above a slanted funk vamp. But they rearrange the primary theme within the same tempo, embellished by Kuljic’s turbulent dialogues phrased as though she’s bestowing words of wisdom to the audience. Here, the ensemble veers off into sequences of social discord.

“Memories” is tattooed with Gratkowski’s weeping alto sax notes, entwined with Kailima’s sullen and animated riffs, leading to a mystical climate with a carefree musical gait. But Kuljic rings loud and clear on the album closer “Success,” stating that we should “set aside hours of the day, and set priorities before other work hounds you.” Sure enough, the best laid plans are often detoured with unexpected surprises, especially at the office. Moreover, the soloists etch out a punchy pulse, segueing to a pummeling finale. In sum, the musicians aim to taunt the mind’s eye amid a sense of immediacy, slyness and good-natured fun.
Review by Eyal Hareuveni:

The Berlin-based quintet Z-Country Paradise was conceived by reeds player Frank Gratkowski who has dreamt about such an experimental project for many years – a dream band that will explore dreams interspersed with nightmares, visions, and passions. A band that will flirt with the compositional and improvisational techniques of iconoclastic composers as Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Pierre Boulez and György Ligeti; the intensity of Jimi Hendrix and the electric groups of Miles Davis; the hardcore avant-punk of guitarist Thurston Moore and the experimental performance art of Laurie Anderson.

Gratkowski found a perfect partner-in-crime for this project – Serbian vocalist-actress Jelena Kuljić . She intensifies the mischievous-rebellious spirit of Gratkowski and Z-Country Paradise with her charismatic delivery of poems by French Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) and Serbian-American Charles Simic (b.1938). Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima and bass player Oliver Potratz, who has collaborated before with Kalima, charge the musical envelope with tough, edgy attacks, and Christian Marien adds nervous, fractured rhythmic patterns that bring to mind the work of Jim Black.

Live in Lisbon, recorded on August 2016 during the Jazz em Agosto festival, and follows the self-titled, self-produced debut, studio album of Z-Country Paradise from 2015. Kuljić singing-playing-acting is the focal point of Z-Country Paradise. She transform the poetic state-of-mind of Rimbaud and Simic into complex yet playful cabaret dramas where she alternates between several roles and characters, all possessed with urgent passion and emotional power. Kuljić spices her suggestive vocals with tempting mystery and captivating elegance. The four male musicians embrace her delivery with irresistible rhythmic attacks.

Z-Country Paradise unique combustion of words, images, sounds and rhythms transforms Rimbaud’s famous, lustful “My Little Lovelies” to a bluesy, beat poem. Rimbaud caustic humor is updated with Kalima’s psychedelic slide guitar and Gratkowski’s soulful alto sax solo. The surreal prose of Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell” is staged as an intimate conversation of Kuljić with Kalima, enveloped with distant, sudden sounds and pulses, but eventually explodes with cathartic shouts and chaotic playing. The adaption of Simic’s “Clouds Gathering” captures beautifully the subtle drama of this dark, restless poem that anticipates “unhappy endings”.