Sam’s Outer Space Blues Room

Sam Fendrich is a composer born in Siberia who has made his home in London. After hearing the impressive Blue Tears (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDINGS LOR110), I wanted to find out more about this fellow. He has made another record for this label (The Unquestioned Answer, 2014) but before that appeared sporadically on various comps, such as the Unknown Public series, since 1994.

Fendrich might be one of these well-seasoned veterans who has had an interesting life outside of music, given his extra-mural activities as a lecturer in mathematics and philosophy. The fact that he also played poker for a year is not lost on me. Gavin Bryars (fellow bass player) made a composition once using the voice of a professional card player, and if so inclined one might write a speculative one-page essay which connects games of chance to the compositional strategy of John Cage, but that wouldn’t be a very fruitful line of enquiry. In any case Blue Tears has no connection to the cold and dessicated Cage, as it’s full of the juice of life, informed by improvisation and jazz, and is the result of a very personal emotional expression on behalf of its composer (the story of it is printed on the back cover). Fendrich has a strong jazz connection having played bass in jazz and folk groups, and anyone who can come up with a title such as ‘MMIINNGGUUSS GGRREEEENN’ (not here, by the way) indicates he has heard a lot of Mingus recordings, and can probably communicate directly with the great Mingus by means of telepathic airwaves beyond the grave, and as such is A-OK in my book.

Traces of jazz do indeed show up in Blue Tears (and there’s a lost Bill Evans or Miles Davis title if ever there was), but so do many other musical and sonic elements – including psychedelic rock, blues, funk, dance beats, baroque harpsichord fugues, and outer-space African electronica thumb-piano music. The entire album is played by Konzuaala Kuzenstan, a person about whom I can find out precisely zero; not even sure if she’s a man or he’s a woman (or if it’s in fact an alias for Fendrich), so forgive my ignorance. Kuzenstan apparently realised the record with various keyboards, but drum machines occasionally punctuate the music with klunkoid beats, and there’s a wailing voice on at least one of these tracks. Throughout, great use is made of distortion; if that’s a Fender Rhodes electric piano, it’s been dirtied up to a high degree possibly using the “Greasy New Orleans Funkoid” setting which is now standard on new builds of that instrument, and creates an “impure” sound that would make Joe Zawinul wither into a dried raisin.

On top of all this, every track is different, exploring a radically different approach to the theme, taking the listener into unexplored turfdoms, with incredibly inventive melodies, ideas and rhythms that Konzuaala Kuzenstan executes with fluid ease and well-articulated phrases, almost as if the music were as personal to them as it is to Sam Fendrich. The press notes inform us that this basic “keyboard and distortion” approach is simpler than previous Fendrich works, which are typified by their “maximalist” nature. I find this somewhat surprising, given the rich surfaces and emotional depths of Blue Tears, but clearly I need to investigate a bit further. Many musicians nowadays want to inhabit tons of musical genres and styles, and indicate their willingness to do so not by exerting any effort, or working hard at their craft, but by simply listing the highlights of their record collections (I saw the members of Franz Ferdinand doing this on the telly once, and once they got started they just couldn’t stop – breathlessly playing one hipster trump card after another, with smug leers to the camera as if expecting to be rewarded for their cleverness.) Conversely on Blue Tears, Sam Fendrich pulls this off without even breaking into a sweat, effortlessly cross-pollinating the seeds of important musical strains into his own brilliant many-headed hybrid.

Despite the fact that every track is called ‘Fake Blues’, there’s nothing fake about Blue Tears – this is the real deal. Can’t say enough good things about this great record, and I can’t believe it’s “only” a CDR. We should all start lobbying now for a vinyl edition. From 19th June 2018.