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Layers Jon Buckland , August 24th, 2023 07:17

Raffaele Costantino glitches the spiritual sound of sacred jazz to a new hyper-galactic dimension, finds Jon Buckland

Italian producer and Hyperjazz head honcho, Raffaele Costantino (aka Khalab) has previous in combining traditional music forms with modern compositional techniques. His 2021 collaboration with musicians from the M’berra refugee camp resulted in glitchy, digitally manipulated Tuareg melodies and, in 2018, he invited Moses Boyd and Shabaka Hutchings to help elevate tribal rhythms with their ascendant Afrofuturist jazz. It’s no surprise then that, whilst Layers sparkles with leading lights from both the Italian and UK jazz scenes (there are appearances from Emanative, Gabin Dabirè, Tenderlonious, and Alessia Obino, to name just a few), there’s a debt owed to mid-twentieth century Sacred Jazz.

Popularised by Gospel legends Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sacred Jazz complimented their spiritual hymns with experimental instrumentation from the likes of Duke Ellington and Mary Lou Williams. On Layers its influence can be felt on ‘Tunnel of Jealousy’ which features the breathless religious affirmations of Lady Blue Eyes giving it up to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. And on the title track we find Joshua Idehen’s carefully intoned “I pray loud but the devil is louder” delivered with the same determined cadence as Faithless’ Maxi Jazz. And, whilst its religious fervour is less apparent, the alienation lacing the lines “they changed the game just when I mastered the rules, can’t blend in, I’m a different hue, from a different kettle, I’m a different brew”, is deeply evident.

You might have previously heard Idehen’s apocalyptic delivery on releases from The Comet is Coming and Sons of Kemet. Layers is less bombastic than the former and more probing than the latter. It’s more attuned to the galactic explorations of Shabazz Palaces, and Space Afrika but knotted through with forebears of cosmic jazz such as Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra, resulting in something more akin to Angel Bat Dawid’s recent Requiem For Jazz opus. Albeit less politically overt, Khalab opts instead to hitch his wagon to the horse of religious devotion.

Album opener, ‘Drone Ra’ exemplifies this best. What begins with a wordless offering, though resolutely reverential, morphs into a more explicit form of worship. A refrain, chanted, spoken, and exulted pronounces a two-part decree: “sing the healing sounds, the magic words from these ancient lands” and “a desert of hearts, christ dry tears, spades in grains of sand”. The tone for the album is set – a deeply classical spirituality. Faces pointed skywards, it imbues each piece on Layers. From the melancholy brass burbles of ‘Conscious Friendship’, through the gently tinkled bells and swelling cymbals of ‘Female Side’, and ‘Romantic Loco’ with its drums that explode like restrained fireworks. This follows all the way to the final track, ‘Tribal Noise’, which returns to the vocal veneration of ‘Drone Ra’ with voices soaring into a final wordless crescendo.

This isn’t a single-minded album with little more than religious praise on its agenda. It might even take a couple of listens for this thread to reveal itself but, lying within each twisting horn segment, each tumbling drum fill, and, underpinning the lyrical content, is a sense of giving oneself over to a higher power. Just make sure you play it loud enough to drown out the Devil.