Djam Karet – A Sky Full Of Stars For A Roof

Djam Karet is quite a mature band now. Their first music, Happy Cancer: McMusic For The McMasses, was released as far back as 1982, when they were thought of as something of a jam band. The band’s first official release though was No Commercial Potential in 1985. Their sound is distinctively their own, maybe sharing common ground with King Crimson, Ozric Tentacles, Grateful Dead and early Pink Floyd at times. Perhaps uniquely for a band of some vintage, the California based band has had a fairly stable membership throughout. People have been introduced or guested over the years, but the core of the band (Gayle Ellett, Mike Henderson, Chuck Oken, and Harry J Osborne) have been there or thereabouts over the years. Others have come and gone at times.

The band’s name is actually Indonesian and can be roughly translated as “elastic time” or “time that stretches”. That gives a hint at the often quirky nature of the band’s music – it’s often atmospheric, almost ambient, style counter balanced with some excellent guitar sections. It is instrumental music that is often restrained rather than grandiose, tasteful rather than pompous. 1989’s Reflections From The Fire pool is possibly the band’s most experimental album, 2010’s The Heavy Soul Sessions probably their best regarded to date.

A Sky Full Of Stars For A Roof was released in April 2019 and is the band’s nineteenth album. (A further couple of related music albums are available as downloads for those who purchase the main album). The flow of the album is such that it can be quite easily listened to as one piece, although there are eight distinct tunes. The title track, clocking in at just over eleven minutes, is probably the one that catches the attention most. Here the albums balance of varied synthesizers and acoustic instruments is most notable and most effective. There’s a West Coast psychedelic vibe evident that sometimes gives the music an eerie feel.

Throughout the album this psychedelic style of music is accompanied by an often Canterburyish approach and maybe a touch of straight ahead 1970’s style symphonic progressive music. The instrumentation on the album really catches the eye. Besides the usual guitar, bass drums and keyboards you’ll find bouzouki, gopichand, tar, mbira, wooden flutes, surmandal, tanpura, cumbus, congas, udu, krakebs and a host of others including the ever popular bicycle bell! Indeed, one of the bonus releases promises a listen that highlights these instruments more as the synths are omitted.

Creating purely instrumental music can be limiting in itself as many people are drawn to vocal music instead. They’d be missing out here of course. There are a few caveats (when aren’t there?). The flow of the music from one track to another requires more concentration from the listener, and the restrained nature of the music actually catches the attention from time to time. At no point do the guitars cut loose when you feel they might do, for example. Of course, that may come with live performances of the material. Overall then, A Sky Full Of Stars For A Roof is an interesting and enjoyable listen that you will have to spend time both with and on to fully appreciate. That’s a good thing too, there are too few bands producing that today.

Gayle Ellett / harmonium, dilruba, acoustic & electric guitars, 8 & 4 string tenor ukulele, vibraphone, viola, Greek bouzouki, EBow, upright bass, analog synth, Hammond organ, Mellotron choir, gopichand, tar, mbira, wooden flutes, surmandal, tanpura, cumbus, congas, udu, krakebs, tambourine, bicycle bell, and field recordings
Mike Henderson / electric guitar, 12 string acoustic guitar, slide guitar, synthesizers
Chuck Oken Jr. / analog and digital keyboard sequencing and soundscapes, drums
Henry Osborne / bass
Mike Murray / acoustic guitar (3), electric mandocello (1,3)
Todd Montgomery / sitar (1,2,6), Irish bouzouki (6)
Micah Nelson / charango (3,5)
Mark Cook / electric guitar, fretless guitar, bass (7)
Shannon Michael Terry / Array mbira (5)

Label: HC PRoductions (HC019)
Format: CD, Digital
Released: April 15, 2019

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