Sublime dark stuff, mired in the crevices of our insomniac paths. Lumbering slowly but with the purpose of a pendulum to time out every breath under the ticking time. These guys have invented this lovely genre and they extended ever so far with each release. Cinematic and true to the European lost souls of our nights. A beautiful rendition of some of our nights and dawns.
One reason Bohren persists in being so interesting despite their uneventfulness is that their music contains a kind of secret history. Lounge jazz, dark ambience, the languorous adagios of classical-music requiem, and the saturated romance of Italian film soundtracks: All of it is folded into Piano Nights. Heard at a distance, the album can sound uniform and insubstantial; up close, it not only covers a lot of ground, but ground you might not expect to overlap.
For as gentle as their sound is, the band has always played with intensity and conviction. At their slowest tempos a Bohren song feels like a series of notes both disconnected from the ones before it and yet articulated with total clarity, like bright stars forming a constellation in an otherwise dark sky. When I saw the band live in 2008, the tension in the room wasn’t a function of volume or speed, but the contrast between the certainty of the notes they played and the silences that followed. Watching them—four hunched German men in charcoal and black—was like watching horror-movie zombies lumber toward their next kill: Each blow was just a matter of time.
If there’s been an evolution in the band’s approach, it’s mostly sonic. Their earliest recordings were chilly and even brittle; Piano Nights is luxurious in its warmth. Nearly every track is backlit by vaporous ambience; the cymbals seem to ring in slow motion.
The sharpest voice in the mix is usually the saxophone, which Clöser plays with the persistent, exhausted tone of someone trying to explain something they’ve tried to explain a thousand times before—too tired to fight but not tired enough to give up.
There's something terrifyingly beautiful about Bohren & Der Club Of Gore's music, most obviously the sheer unhurried lethargy of it. Each piece moves slower than hell, meditating at the sort of pace the 20th century's communication explosion almost killed off. Each Bohren release evokes the sedate momentum of ancient sea travel, snailing forward through barren landscapes, perhaps unknowingly in circles, constantly tempting one to ask, "have we been here before?"
The story of the band's progress has been as persistently sedate as the music itself, with the now-signature sound of Christoph Clöser's tenor sax not actually entering the group until some eight years after their formation and two monolithic albums of guitar-led imaginary midnight movie soundtracks in 1994 and 1995. The group's loosely-definable second phase following the departure of Reiner Henseleit and his guitar and the introduction of Clöser and his sax seemingly came to something of a conclusion with the 'Beileid' mini-album in 2011, with Mike Patton even joining them to croon across an unrecognisable cover of 'Catch My Heart' by 80s German metallers Warlock. An approximation of light had begun to appear behind the curtains of the long-abandoned jazz club where Bohren & Der Club Of Gore have been living for two decades now, with semblances of major keys and the distant-memory of the bright outside world languidly returning since 2008's Dolores. Their progress having slowed to a near-standstill, the group take a sideways step with Piano Nights and continue their slow march towards the eternal embrace of the grave, albeit with something of a resigned grin of acceptance across their faces.
Supposedly inspired by a lonesome moment behind a grand piano in Moscow, the eponymous instrument is the most notable addition to the group's gentle arsenal here, pushing aside the warmth of Bohren's mainstay Fender Rhodes, but leaving the synth choirs, organs, vibes and breathtakingly restrained rhythm section of bassist Robin Rodenberg and drummer Thorsten Benning utterly intact. Clöser's saxaphone seems to have subtly undergone its own infinitesimal metamorphosis, eroding away at the fleshy vibratos and breathy linger to leave a coldly hollow and synthetic core. It resultantly sounds its very least human, as if the soul of Ben Webster has finally flown from the man to be replaced by the menacing ersatz innocence of those Angelo Badalamenti soundtracks so many writers have (perhaps lazily) repeatedly likened the group's sound to. Musically, Bohren & der Club of Gore certainly continue their aesthetic shift towards the luminescent as proceedings enter daylight. The track titles themselves paint a picture less akin to the funereal than their forebears. 'Bei Rosarotem Licht' ('In Rosy Light') and 'Segeln ohne Wind' ('Sailing without Wind') litter Piano Nights' playlist, while 'Welk' ('Withered') or 'Skeletal Remains' is where these guys were at only two or three albums ago. But tonally the group are at their most coldly robotic on Piano Nights.
Of the many hard-to-define sub-genres of jazz, "dark jazz" may be the most challenging to classify. Exemplifying the category is Bohren & der Club of Gore's Piano Nights . The German quartet, whose members have a variety of doom metal origins, has morphed their earlier inclinations into a hybrid that has little to suggest the player's roots. Unequal parts of ambient, experimental and modern jazz, it represents the most radical career transition since Charles Lloyd joined the The Beach Boys.
Founded in 1992, Bohren & der Club of Gore have long had a following in Europe, recording eight studio albums beginning with the guitar and bass focused Gore Motel (Epistrophy, 1994). Minimalist-ambient pieces pervaded until the 2000 release Sunset Mission (Wonder, 2000) which saw one of the two original guitarists—Reiner Henseleit—replaced by multi-instrumentalist Christoph Clöser. The latter added a decidedly jazzier element to the group dynamic and as a result, his first collaboration is a largely undiscovered masterpiece.
Piano Nights is pastoral and desolate at the same time, seeing beauty through crumbling façades. The music rarely rises above a whisper yet even the silences take on an emphatic air. There is an ambience of mystery and quiet urgency in each of these pieces and the music requires patient listening. It is not until "Ganz Leise Kommt Die Nacht" that Clöser's quietly smoky saxophone seems to speak out of the darkness, elevating the tempo from exceptionally down-tempo to just very slow. Similarly on "Segeln Ohne Wind," the tentative upshift in tempo is reluctant to break into the light.
Though there is a consistency in the tone of these pieces, there are variations that present themselves in subtle ways such as the occasional mournful sax in contrast to the almost-cheerful aspects of the vibraphone or the somber spaghetti western flavor of Komm Zurück Zu Mir. Piano Nights aesthetic sense is part Brian Eno, part early Pink Floyd. Eerie, foreboding and weighty, often simultaneously, Piano Nights is beautifully austere throughout. It is an eccentric and stunning extraction of an erudite outer jazz experience.