The Dwarfs of East Agouza - Bes

by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2016-04-29

Since the dissolution of the heroically surreal Sun City Girls, Richard and Alan Bishop have gone on to create a wealth of musical riches between them. While Richard has turned his mind to solo ventures alongside his work in freak-rock supergroup Rangda, Alan has focussed on The Invisible Hands and his varied solo expeditions as Alvarius B. While engaged with these projects, and while running esoteric record label Sublime Frequencies, Alan has found time to form Cairo-based instrumental improv trio, The Dwarfs of East Agouza.

The band continues to explore Alan Bishop’s eclectic muse, this time incorporating repetitious grooves, North African percussion and explorations into free-jazz. Now either that brief description will have you chomping at the bit or diving for cover but, for the uncertain amongst you, hear me out. Alan Bishop has been producing music since the early eighties and has quite the knack for successfully bringing together a varied palette of influences. He’s a musician who has, over the years, fully embraced the magical and multifaceted world of music and it only seems right that we should try and embrace his efforts in return.

Originally conceived in 2012 when Bishop shared a flat with guitarist Sam Shalabi and percussionist/organist Maurice Louca in the Agouza district of Cairo, the band bonded over some lengthy and productive improv sessions. Bishop brings his acoustic bass skills to proceedings as well as some wild alto sax moments that help to give the groups debut LP its distinctly jazzy vibes.

The record starts with the persuasive funk of ‘Baka of the Future’, cascading rhythms and hypnotic synths rub shoulders with the exuberant, perpetual motion of Bishops bass lines. Shalabi’s quick fingers sporadically lay into the presumably well-worn frets while the rhythm drives the whole thing forward with a commendable, Neu! like commitment to repetition. The hypnotic hand-drums and Afro-beat vibes of ‘Clean Shahin’ keep things moving while the guitar adopts a smooth, mesmeric tone that gradually builds throughout. While Sun City Girls were prone to dalliances into noisy, mad-as-a-hatter territory The Dwarfs of East Agouza are a tight, focussed yet no less experimental trio.

‘Where’s Turbo’ picks up the pace while adding some disjointed, wonky blues to the bands already heady melting pot of influences. The record brings in new influences subtly and without fanfare, each track building on the previous one rather than trying to produce something completely different every few minutes. The overall effect is a deeply hypnotic one, the albums relentless rhythms refusing to let go. ‘Hungry Bears Don’t Dance’ is a primal, drum-centred march into the desert while ‘Resinance’ is an intense and brooding oddity.

The album comes to a close with the epic 35 minutes that make up ‘Museum of Stranglers’. It’s here that the trio arguably indulges its most avant-garde influences. The track begins in a rhythmless void, Bishop’s alto sax crying out in the calm before those now familiar, racing rhythms begin to kick in around the three minute mark. The track moves from head-nodding psychedelic funk to passages of groans and strung-out, ambient noise. It’s the craziest thing on here by miles; a challenging, at times unnerving yet ultimately rewarding piece of music.

The Dwarfs of East Agouza have managed to absorb a whole world of music into these six, increasingly strange, compositions. Bes won’t be the most immediate record you hear in 2016, that much is certain. Yet if you choose to take the trip it may turn out to be one of the most enlightening and perhaps satisfying musical journeys you take all year.

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