To approach a text explaining Monodrama is to take on a genuine challenge. Like Faust when ordered by Mephistopheles to “invent words, now that ideas fail you”, we are bereft of signifiers to describe Monodrama’s music – they are the happiest anomaly of current Spanish music, a band with no apparent reference points in our local scene. We fall into dizzying spirals, trapped by the weeds, abusing prefixes, invented idioms and imagined anglicisms, muddying the waters with terms like Chillwave, nu-Jazz, Avant Garde, Ambient, Post Rock, Synthpop, Downbeat…….endless labels which strive to define the boundaries of a terrain which really stretches, ruptures the limits between genres, textures, aesthetics and idioms arising from the jumble of instrumental music, abstract electronica, contemporary jazz, or, simply, improvised music.
Monodrama is three musicians from Madrid, classically formed, dissident of spirit, wild and futuristic of surmise, independent but united by the hive mind that is this project: Alberto Brenes (drums, percussion and sound design), David Sancho (piano, Rhodes, synths) and Mauricio Gómez (tenor sax, keyboards). Hyperactive members of the contemporary jazz scene, you can find them collaborating with La Resistencia Ensemble or with pianist Moisés P. Sánchez in his acclaimed “Unbalanced: concerto for ensemble” album, nominated for the Latin Grammys in 2019. When they play within the boundless space that is Monodrama, what emerges is a project philosophically and aesthetically aligned with Jazz, but imbued with textural experimentation and electronica, as well as a creative non-conformism which situates them in a no-place – unclassifiable, unique and fascinating.
Perceived from the outside, Monodrama is an indecipherable mechanism, functioning with a watchmaker’s precision, somehow eluding the worn paths and pavements of known styles and genres to lay down new and unique trails. The forward motion (or sideways leap, depending on your vantage point) that acts as the first principle of the machine that is Monodrama´s music is not a desire to rupture or a collision of opposites – it is not a needless disruption of the norm. There is, here, no show of strangeness, no iconoclasm, no attempt to break down established canons, no cerebral intent to fuse styles, instead a freedom from academicism. Monodrama is a display of simple free will, free from any need to wipe out anybody’s prints or to explode the foundations of anything. It is an uninhibited exploration of untouched landscapes, skirting and probing the most distant margins of free and experimental music, uncalm, gaze always to that which is yet to come, a landscape usually untrusted, regarded as intransitable, and barely touched by Spain’s musical travellers.
Looking to the always unjust, imprecise task of finding points of connection, however ephemeral or imprecise, with other artistic entities that help us define the musical parameters within which Monodrama move, you find yourself before an improbable and hallucinatory cocktail wherein The Comet is Coming, Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble or Kneebody mingle with Isotope 217, The Cinematic Orchestra, Boards of Canada, or the Bad Plus, Tortoise, BadBadNotGood…..eventually you admit that the way to explain how Monodrama sound is to put their records on and accept the cliché that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. Whoever it was that said that.
On the path opened by Monodrama in 2013, there is no sensationalism, no fireworks, no empty technical ostentation. Modern Post Mortem (self released, 2015) and Anathema (Everlasting, 2019), their first records, are two samples of talent, sensibility and acuity which have few peers in the recent history of music outside the mainstream in Spain. To the question of whether they are Jazz records, the only reasonable responses are “maybe” and “who cares?”. Who cares? – because if in order to describe a band, Miles Davis, Maurits Cornelis Escher, Ingmar Bergman and DJ Krush spring to mind, it’s clear that the use of labels sullies the marvellous and, sadly, vanishingly unusual and rare experience of coming across artists with an individual magic and a shared, near telepathic understanding which proffers them an unique, a deep and an elevated voice, inhabiting an universe which now expands in a thousand different directions with this new and unarguable album, Mndrmooaa (Everlasting, 2021).
As is ever the case with Monodrama, this new album disorients us, confuses and mystifies. On the cover we find flames that seem unreal, howling wolves and night. There is a narrative pulse, a filmic gauze, allusions to lava – that soft lava that Hawaiians call pähoehoe. In fact, you might attempt to define Monodrama’s music as “magmatic” – malleable, enveloping, warm and at the same time, enigmatic, tangible yet indecipherable. With a production and sound design that is highly detailed and precise, Mndrmooaa proposes a trip through misty uplands and lowlands, astonishing landscapes, pregnant with mystery, beauty and unexpected twists. Instrumental music which can acquire any form as it advances, always in motion, never solidifying. This latest piece of work situates them not too distant, perhaps, from the indispensable new London jazz scene, led by Joe Armon-Jones, AlfaMist or Nubya García, or the International Anthem roster of Jeff Parker, Jamie Branch or Makaya McCraven – it is shrouded from beginning to end in a mist which swirls and expands, covering all in an eerie, bizarrely comforting light, balancing all the virtues of their previous works to end up sounding like nothing we heard ever before.
Elusive, evasive, cryptic as ever, the compositions of Mndrmooaa expand like fractal waves – or, to be more precise, like the coarse, glassy cords of that slow, inexorably flowing lava referenced in “Pähoehoe”. A flow before which we can only surrender, enveloped in its layers and layers of creative genius, submitting to an hallucinatory trip through unexplored geography toward an uncertain destination. Though it burns, the experience is worth the pain.
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