When the UK experimental septet The Heliocentrics decided to add the young Slovakian singer Barbora Patkova to their Jazz, Hip Hop, Psych and Krautrock outfit for their new release “A World Of Masks”, it transformed an already well-respected band… into a superior one.
The Heliocentrics have collaborated with the likes of Mulatu Astatke to DJ Shadow and Gaslamp Killer, and curated an influential core of fans that include Madlib and the recently departed David Axelrod. That can be accredited to their dedication of creating from live improvisation, or as the band likes to call it “almost a form of telepathy” with “musical changes that otherwise would be near impossible to write”. Point being, they were doing fine with the original formula.
On the hypnotic fussy groove of ‘Oh Brother’, Patkova makes the case that her voice, similar to a trumpet, is an instrument too. With a Flora Purim acrobatic type vocal energy and earthy dexterity of Betty Carter, it seems The Heliocentrics somehow got the memo either from their ancestors CAN or french cousins Aquaserge. When the right vocalist is chosen, that voice will enhance a rhythmic identity. Not diminish. Think of Patkova as the useful new constituent that flatters a well outfitted Swiss Army Knife.
Somewhere between the jagged middle eastern style time signatures and the sitar solo that carries ‘Oh Brother’ into the ether, Barbora Patkova, or as the band calls her “Babs”, connects the dots in patchwork style. ‘Capital of Alone’ is a moody design that allows the listeners ear to wander pleasantly through the weird orchestral solitude using Patkova’s voice as a compass of sorts. Appearing less than more on the entire album, “Babs” gives the band an enhanced canvas and scintillating new colors to work with.
And hold tight fam… Helios still bring that “fresh out the kitchen” frenetic breakbeat funk when needed. ‘Dawn Chorus’ reads like a lost track from the 1974 “Taking Of The Pelham One Two Three” soundtrack sporting a full Walter Matthau scowl all day. Meanwhile ‘Square Wave’ continues down a nomadic breakbeat journey with hints of Ray Manzarek twisting in the wind. ‘Human Zoo’ stands as the most fleshed out instrumental on the album. It comes intact with a full mid-section breakdown as a feature for a heavy horn line that is one part John Coltrane and second part New Orléans brass tradition.
In a year that will see this band work in collaboration with Arkestra and again with Gaslamp Killer, The Heliocentrics have presented and delivered a better version of an already formidable collective.
“A World Of Masks” is available digitally on May 26, 2017 with vinyl & CD formats arriving June 9 via Soundway Records