06/17/13 By Antje Huebner
Brainkiller Pushes the Envelope on Genre-Defying Second Album Colourless Green Superheroes
Scheduled for July Release on RareNoise Records
Jacob Koller - Piano, Fender Rhodes, Keys
Brian Allen - Trombone, fx
Hernan Hecht - Drums
On the creative instrumental music scene today there are a plethora of fresh-sounding new bands that artfully blend jazz, classical, rock, electronica and the avant garde. Add to that list the renegade trio Brainkiller, which has been flying under the radar with a potent sound that is steeped in structure while pushing the envelope on audaciousness. With Colourless Green Superheroes, the band that continues to defy easy categorization is back with more epic compositions bursting with energy and compelling grooves, intricate time-shifting passages and odd rhythms, raucous interludes, touches of humor and various ingenious applications of keys, bone and drums.
The brainchild of trombonist Brian Allen and keyboardist Jacob Koller, Brainkiller began 13 years ago as an experimental duo. The two composers and kindred spirits explored their indelible chemistry and complimentary compositional styles together for years before adding a third permanent member, drummer Hernan Hecht (of Mole) in 2007. The following year they recorded The Infiltration, which was released on RareNoise Records in 2010. Colourless Green Superheroes continues the saga of this potent and restless creative trio. And thereʼs something new this time out - the addition of seductive vocals by enigmatic Japanese chanteuse Coppé on one track, the atmospheric and mellow "Empty Words." Says trombonist-composer Allen, "We actually all wrote this tune together, which is something very different for us. Jacob and I have never really written songs together but when we thought about having Coppé sing on this album, the three of us sat down and wrote it together at the same time. We had never done that before."
"Empty Words" is just one of 13 dynamic and wholly distinctive tunes on Colourless Green Superheroes</b>. From Kollerʼs epic "The Vindicator Returns," which reaches King Crimson-esque levels of bombast on the strength of the composerʼs distortion-laced Fender Rhodes work and Hechtʼs thunderous backbeats, to Allenʼs subdued and lyrical "Orange Grey Shade" or his mournful dirge "A Piedi Verso Il Sole," to Kollerʼs anthemic "Top of the World" and Allenʼs quirky-bluesy plunger showcase, "Noodlin," which shifts abruptly to an uptempo chops-busting groover, Brainkiller covers a remarkably wide stylistic gamut. Add in Kollerʼs engaging trance-groover "Plates," Allenʼs strident jam "Secret Mission," Kollerʼs kinetic "Okatu Goes to a Rave" and Allenʼs slow-grooving mysterioso closer "To Be Continued," and you have a universe of sound that Brainkiller explores on their sophomore outing.
"Thereʼs definitely a lot of influences that we have," says Allen, citing saxophonist Tim Berneʼs trio with keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Tom Rainey and Ellery Eskelinʼs trio with accordianist Andrea Parkins and drummer Jim Black as a significant ones. Koller cites Keith Jarrett, Paul Bley, Thelonious Monk, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Deerhoof, Radiohead, Phil Collins, Tim Berne, Death Cab for Cutie, Beach House and the Paul Motian Trio with Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell as some of his important influences.
"I would say that this album is pretty composed," adds Allen. "These songs are not really for open improvisation or that kind of thing. You might hear a trombone solo or a keyboard solo, but even then weʼre thinking, ʻHowʼs it going to function compositionally and how can it take us somewhere or whatʼs it going to add as opposed to having something to fill up the time or the space?ʼ Weʼve all done a lot of free improv on other projects, so we wanted this to be something different and special and unique, especially because Jacob and I write. We like to write and compose music, so it was fun for us to actually not have it be super-open or very improvisatory."
It was 13 years ago that Allen and Koller met on their respective ways to a band camp in Banff, Canada - Koller from Arizona and Allen from Texas. "Actually, we met in the airport," explains Allen. "Something happened in customs and we were detained. I remember getting off at the airport in Calgary and going to this little office, and there was Jacob sitting on the floor looking dejected. They werenʼt going to let us into the country to go to this camp because we did something wrong with our immigration forms. They were asking us to pay a lot of fines...it got pretty weird. After we straightened it out, we took the bus to Banff and started talking, and we hit it off. That night we went to a jam session and the first thing we played was a standard, and we kind of looked at each other and went, ʻHey! I wanna play with YOU! Weʼve got something here.ʼ So it was a completely kind of a random, completely lucky thing that we met."
13 years later, that rare connection continues. "We have something that I just havenʼt felt with too many other musicians," says Allen. "Itʼs just always a blast playing with Jacob. Heʼs such a good musician and he hears wonderfully...the colors and the way he can accompany. And his compositions are great...just so much fun to play."
Says Koller of his Brainkiller partner, "Brian thinks more conceptually about writing where I tend to focus on finding a specific melody or harmony that evokes a unique character. I really think our two different approaches to writing and playing music compliment each other. From the very first time we first started making music together I think it was apparent that there was a lot of raw musical chemistry between us. I think that chemistry has strengthened over the years, as has our concept about making music. I play with a lot of different people but playing music with Brian is like riding a bicycle. It is always super easy. It just happens."
Both Allen and Koller have high praise for the third member of Brainkiller, whom they say helps shape the music in profound ways. "Hernan is definitely an amazing drummer," says Koller, "but the reason why we works so well with Brainkiller is because he is a great producer who can see the entire aspect of the music. He is able to see and hear things more like a producer would rather than a composer or a player. This input from Hernan has a big influence on the outcome of the sound of Brainkiller." Adds Allen, "Weʼre always trying to figure out how we can make the most of what we have with just these three voices. So we think a lot about the orchestration of it and Hernan is really great with those details. Heʼs really amazing in the studio...just all these little fine-tuning things that he does. He has ways to define the sections and the moods so that everything has a different character, like itʼs really saturated character with as much detail as we can give it."
For his part, Hecht says he felt an immediate chemistry with Allen and Koller when he joined the band in 2007. "From the band's inception, we knew we had a unique and committed sound, but we have grown at a musical and conceptual level. Our statement became clearer, and with that came the personas and more refined possibility. Being on tour and spending as much time as we have together, we discovered we shared a pretty deep sense of humor, not realizing it was pushing the music to evolve. When we became aware of it, we decided to embrace it as part of the project. Thatʼs when we developed the new characters, a direction that not only involved a unique music but a concept from start to finish, where humor, the intricate costumes and music were one."
Hecht adds, "Brian and Jacob are special beings, with very special personalities and a way of life quite different from the average person. Of course, this is reflected in their approach when composing. They are highly intelligent creatures, very aware of the styles and the sounds coming from contemporary musics, with very deep knowledge of the mathematics of music, playing with all these elements simultaneously. I'm a big fan of them."
That kind of camaraderie is apparent from track to track on Colourless Green Superheroes, Brainkillerʼs audacious second release on RareNoise Records.
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