One of the small pleasures of life as a professional music critic is the weekly emails in my inbox containing zipped archives of new, yet to be released music. Not all of it is good music, mind. Much of it is thoroughly pedestrian, a wasteland of janky singer-songwriters all trying to be the next Prateek Kuhad. But every once in a while you stumble onto a diamond in the rough: a little-known, barely promoted record that imprints itself onto your brain, the red-hot sounds and words searing them into your mind. And if you´re very lucky, you get to be one of the first few people to introduce that record to the rest of the world.
2061, the fourth album by Polish experimental jazz act Electro-Acoustic Beat Sessions (EABS), is one such record that quietly snuck its way into my inbox. The press kit was accompanied by a little note from Lukasz—who runs London-based Astigmatic Records—which called it "one of the best jazz records of the year." I dismissed that as the usual tall claims that form the bread-and-butter of music PR (one particular agency has used the word "revolutionary" to describe each of the 20-odd records they've sent me).
Also read: Play it again: How retromania took over
But as the martial horns and keening synths of Global Warning built up to their chaotic, mechanistic crescendo, I slowly realised that Lukasz may not be telling tall tales after all. On 2061, EABS take the idea of experimental, free-form jazz and inject it full of performance-enhancing steroids—marrying the Saturn-worshipping Afro-space-futurism of Sun Ra Arkestra and the space-escape fantasies of Arthur C. Clarke with earthier sounds from hip-hop, trap, Latin and even drill music.
The record takes its name and thematic inspiration from the third book in Clarke's Space Odyssey series, a space caper that is about humanity overcoming it's differences and deeply embedded enmities and uniting to face an alien, existential threat. With war returning to Europe, panicked national lockdowns, and the resurgence of the 20th century's most dehumanising ideologies, EABS attempt to imagine a way out of the dystopia that awaits us—the record is, in its way, their musical blueprint for humanity's Space Ark and salvation.
This isn't the group's first flirtation with cosmic jazz. In 2020, the band—which coalesced at regular improv jazz sessions at Wroclaw club Puzzle—paid tribute to the legendary American jazz composer Sun Ra, deconstructing and reimagining his music through the lens of contemporary hip-hop, juke and house music. 2061's compositions may be all originals, but they carry a bit of Ra's wild-eyed fervour, taking you to spaces and soundscapes that are at once nostalgic and futuristic.
Highlights include the Latin-grooved jazz fusion cut Dead Silence, elevated by Olaf Węgier's virtuoso tenor sax and the frenetic hyphy-synth-jazz of Conscious Breathing. Album closer A Farewell To Mother Earth is the record's thematic lynchpin, and features Polish jazz veteran Jan Ptaszyn Wróblewski, who used to play saxophone with iconic Polish jazz pianist Krzysztof Komeda (though readers may be more familiar with the film scores he did for Roman Polanski, including Cul De Sac and Rosemary's Baby.)
Best jazz record of the year? Maybe not, but it's still a pretty good one. EABS are also supposed to be working on a record with Pakistani fusion act Jaubi, who released one of my favourite albums of 2021, Nafs At Peace. You might want to keep an eye open for that one.
Two more quick recommendations then, local ones this time. First up, there's Aabad, the new two track record by Baroda-based singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist Shashwat Bulusu. Having carved a niche out for himself with a highly innovative lo-fi approach to guitar-led folk-pop, Bulusu—who has Hindustani classical training—leans into more accessible territory with his first Hindi release.
On Aabad, Bulusu weaves muted guitar, harmonium, melodic percussion, and synths into a slow-burn anthem, with an ever-so-glacial build up to a crescendo that surprises you with its affective power. B-side Charkha is more familiar singer-songwriter territory, but no less moving.
The other release is FILM, the eponymous debut record by New Delhi producer Sanil Sudan (aka FILM). Over 13 tracks, Sudan deconstructs techno, breaks and club music, reconstituting the parts into stripped down, ambient, sit-down electronic music that references Berlin synth, cult films, video games and the enduring tradition of tabla-sampling desi electronica. It's a dark, brooding, multilayered record that rewards deep listening.
And because I'm currently in sunny Barcelona, recovering from three long nights of live music at the first weekend of the Primavera Sound festival, I've got a bonus hot tip for anyone excited to finally be able to return to their favourite summer music festivals. Go find yourself one where Low are playing. There were plenty of amazing acts at Primavera, from old punk/goth icons (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) to alt-rap insurgents (Tyler The Creator), but nobody quite matched the immediacy, tenderness and sheer drone-tastic intensity of the Minnesota indie-rock veterans. Twenty-eight years after they first started making music, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker are still surprising us with their ability to make guitar music sound fresh and other-worldly. If there's only one band you can watch on tour this year, make it Low. You won't regret it.
Also read: Sonny Singh and the dissident diaspora