Music for Music: Kurma
Kurma: Stellar Enigma
By Dan Ursini
A happy enigma of longstanding friendships is how some can outlast great distances in time and place because “when we talk or get together, it seems as if no time has passed.” Those are the words of composer and pianist Olec Mün of Barcelona, Spain, about his friendship with trumpeter Michael Sarian, based in Brooklyn. They grew up together in Argentina. During COVID, they began a long-distance musical partnership resulting in two intriguing EPs on the pioneering Piano and Coffee label, based in Valencia, Spain.
The recently released Kurma has an audacious 14-minute track, “Kartikeya,” which consumes most of its length. “Kartikeya” is a work strong in perspective and ambition, and every moment is the product of meticulous studio detailing. Mün draws from the rhythms and textures of jazz, ambient, and world music in creating sounds that are largely processed and blurred. They include traces and nuances of sonic life in every sort of setting, from inner space to open wilderness, from jungle to deep space, and there are sounds suggesting many kinds of movement, particularly flight—including rocket propulsion.
Some of the most engaging sounds are produced by the array of high-tech effects that Sarian employs with his trumpet. Throughout “Kartikeya,” he also uses his trumpet as an acoustic instrument in expansive passages highlighting the floating sort of grace central to his style. In addition, he contributes abundant lyricism and energy to “Svāhā,” a subdued elegiac composition, the other cut on this EP.
It is important to note that Sarian does not consider these contributions to be solos but “as a release, a respite for the listener. I may play as if I’m taking a solo, or the soloist, but it’s all in service of the music and the sonic landscape.” He adds, “I never treat the tracks Olec sends me as ‘backgrounds.’ They set the mood and create the flow of the tracks.” In these and other ways, “Kartikeya” finds its own form and develops its own momentum. The whole of this composition forms a vibrational evocation of an enigmatic spiritual presence.
This thoroughly high-tech effort was a product of journeys Mün took, that involved literally no tech at all: insights gained through two years of travel, experiencing village life in Africa and India. Mün asserts that this experience “changed my life, and, as music is a big part of my life, it was also transformed profoundly. These trips taught me that music is not meant only for entertaining or even to transmit emotions, but it is also a powerful field of experimentation and communication in a much more subtle way than we are used to.”
These travels reshaped his perspective in other ways: “Discovering the relationship with music which other traditions different from the Western have, really opened my eyes, my mind and my heart. Africa … touched me in the sense that music is not separated from the people and their day-to-day activities. Music is part of everyone, all the time, 24/7.” He continued, “In India, music is a spiritual bridge to connect with the Unknown … I have a personal admiration for the Hindu tradition because spirituality is not something uniquely ethereal and subtle … If you travel to India, you will notice that there are temples erected in the middle of chaotic cities, and lotus flowers growing from the mud. We purposefully wanted to convey this apparent ambiguity, which … reveals … an underlying oneness and wholeness behind it all.” Indeed, “Kartikeya” seems both of this world and apart from it.
A final note: As you may know, 20-minute EPs are gaining on full-length albums as the new standard in the marketplace. But that does not necessarily mean quality is reduced by half. Kurma’s “Kartikeya” has an album’s worth of ideas comfortably compressed into its 14-minute track on a 20-minute EP. “Svāhā” is a 4-minute effort that offers its own richness. The EP format seems entirely correct here.
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Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine; he wrote performance art pieces presented at Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication. In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, has had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: email@example.com