Samla Mammas Manna

Kaka

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Having apparently resolved their Family Cracks, the members of Samla Mammas Manna's '70s quartet -- guitarist Coste Apetrea, drummer Hans Bruniusson, keyboardist Lars Hollmer, and bassist Lars Krantz -- reunited during the '90s, after well over a decade apart, to play gigs scattered around the globe. In the fall of 1998 they recorded at Hollmer's Chickenhouse studio, and interspersed that material with excerpts from live concerts in Sweden and Norway between 1993 and 1998. The result was 1999's Kaka, a new showcase for the band also heard on the '70s albums Måltid (1974), Klossa Knapitatet (1975), and Gregory Fitzpatrick collaboration Snorungarnas Symfoni (1976). Kaka is actually a fine introduction to the Samlas, nicely balancing their serious musicality and unbridled lunacy. Revisiting material from the band's '70s era with much-improved sound quality, the studio-recorded tunes dominate the proceedings, but the music is presented as a single "concert" with English-language narrator John Fiske (sounding every bit the formal British gentleman) interpreting the goings-on for the benefit of the home listener. "And they're off," Fiske announces, and they are indeed, precisely executing high-energy unison lines and effortlessly shifting gears from punched-up fusiony instrumental rock to Spanish-tinged segments on the studio-based "Lyckliga Titanic," with Hollmer shining on melodica during a tango-ish portion near the tune's conclusion. The wacky vocal hijinks on the next track, the live "Oh Sa Masalana Jämfört Med Ålman River," introduce the Samlas at their most unhinged, as the bandmembers shout, growl, and attempt to engage the audience in a group chant-along. "Well, I don’t think anyone was expecting that," Fiske says, following up with "The pianist asks the question, 'How unstable is it possible to be? Is it in fact possible to achieve total instability?'"

And suddenly, the Samlas are back in the studio, crisply riffing away on "Första Ikarien," impossibly tight with sudden stylistic left turns from cartoonish to a ballroom waltz in the blink of an eye. More live zaniness erupts on the next track, "Reptilgärna," with Fiske proclaiming "I wish you could see them as well as hear them" while the Samlas yammer away in the background. True to form, "Satori" then finds the band abruptly back in the studio in a manic polka-fied mood, Hollmer's inimitable electric keyboard tone enervating one channel while his folkier melodica warms up the other. The eight-plus-minute studio highlight "Frestelsens Café" includes solo features for Bruniusson's Ruth Underwood-flavored marimba, Hollmer's soaring synth, and Apetrea's burning guitar over the hard-driving foundation of Krantz's always solid, no-nonsense bass and Bruniusson's propulsive drumming; the studio-to-live transition is less abrupt here, as guttural vocal craziness enters the mix before the tune concludes and random grunting sounds bleed into the following "Tung Krupa Tejpraga Tra La La," one of Kaka's more "musical" live tracks. As fun as this all sounds, Bruniusson would leave the Samlas (again) after Kaka, replaced by high-energy powerhouse Tatsuya Yoshida, and the band would not return to the Chickenhouse to record an album ever again.

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