MIGHTY SUGARCANE ‘Atomic’ LP/CD (Self-released) 5/5

Hailing from various parts of Europe but based in Greece, this very contemporary three-piece jazz-based outfit release this their debut album after a couple of digital-only singles were issued in 2018. The trio consists of Marios Takoushis playing keyboards, electronics and vocoder, Cahit Kutrafali on bass and Stelios Xydias playing the drums. This mainly instrumental 7-track LP brings together many influences of which we’ll discuss later, with all band members being very active with other outside projects in addition to this.

The album begins with the rousing ‘Made of Love’, a 5-minute funk frenzy with both synths and piano dynamics, effective vocoder vocal lines and precise in the pocket drumming from Stelios. This is followed by ‘Nomad’, which is almost a live broken beat jam, but with some brilliant electric bass playing by Cahit who perfectly underpins Marios’ synth and Fender Rhodes parts. ‘Torpedo’ reduces the tempo somewhat to evoke an almost hip hop quality – but it’s not hip hop at all. The drum pattern here is more static while the keys maintain a more melodic framework. The relatively short ‘Third Rock Sound’, at 3’39”, possesses a vamp feel rather than being heavily structured around a particular form, and includes audio dialogue samples from what I assume are taken from NASA space missions, which have been available online for free for a number of years.

The final three tracks include the atmospheric ‘Wonderland Wasteland’, a difficult to pigeonhole composition which includes cinematic chordal work combined with a 4/4 groove, analogue synth bass and eerie sound effects. The shuffle heavy ‘Moonsun’ is equally as difficult to tag, but again uses strong synth parts before an extremely fluid piano solo emerges in the 2nd half of the piece. And finally, the mesmerising ‘Freevolution’ closes the album with its gorgeous synth pads, simple but effective bassline and absorbing piano parts.

Genre definition has always been a difficult talking point and as per other genres, jazz has also suffered from this problematic topic. Artists, labels, retailers, academics, writers as well as music listeners; we use musical categories to support the identification of the creative output of musicians, but we are all guilty of using this identification system negatively or inappropriately. Writing this review, I could have referred to the group as being ‘fusion’ – a broad term itself that references the late 1960s and ‘70s move from jazz’s original musical paradigm to when other instruments, playing styles and concepts outside of the established jazz tradition were being incorporated. But is one correct in attributing this musical category to Mighty Sugarcane?

New albums and artists identified as contemporary jazz-funk or fusion have either inclined to be sonically styled jazz-rock albums and heavily centred around guitar and guitar solos, or, they have tended to be funk-based recordings but with some added solos which helps with the jazz label. But back to my point, ‘Atomic’ is wholly jazz centred and funky in equal measure, a very tricky feat indeed, but I would feel cautious in being too narrow in their identification as there’s a lot going on here that I would be doing the band an injustice in labelling them as fusion. Movie scores, electronica, improvisation, broken beat and so on are all referred to but with an integrity and honesty that stops the project from being contrived and manufactured. This is a wonderfully engaging release from this heavyweight set of musicians, and one does hope they have time to continue with this project in the future.

Damian Wilkes