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Universal Harmonies & Frequencies
Tune IN Bernie Brooks , December 1st, 2023 09:43

Jamal Moss pairs up with fellow astral traveller Jerzy Maczyński for a bold and playful debut as Universal Harmonies & Frequencies, says Bernie Brooks

Flashback to Moogfest, a few years before it went bust. I’m crawling around on the floor of some sort of co-work slash conference centre with Jamal Moss aka Hieroglyphic Being aka one of the most idiosyncratic, eclectic voices in the Chicagoland electronic music scene. My phone is missing and he’s helping me look for it underneath a network of folding tables, each decked out with its own floor-length tablecloth, creating something like a series of interconnected childhood forts. I don’t know Moss, so the whole scenario is a bit weird, and it feels kinda wrong. To me, Moss’s whole deal is cosmic. Interstellar. It most certainly isn’t the corporate carpeting of a proto WeWork.

For the better part of 25 years, over a slew of releases under an abundance of aliases, Moss has crafted a signature sound rooted in Chicago house and Detroit techno, though distinct from both. Wiggly and funky, synths wriggle and squirm, pinned down by off-kilter drum patterns. Sometimes, it sounds less like dance music and more like a language only Moss and extraterrestrials can speak. As Universal Harmonies & Frequencies (UHF), Moss is joined by standout Polish jazzer Jerzy Maczyński on saxophone and electronics, and their debut on yeyeh, the hour-long Tune IN, is as bold as it is massive.

Brought together by label boss Pieter Jansen, Moss & Maczyński’s collaboration is much more than “Sax blaster blasts sax over beat master’s beats.” Working with engineer Rein de Sauvage Nolting, the pair spent five days in Amsterdam jamming. According to the presser, when the dust settled, they had over two dozen lengthy improvised compositions, from which thirteen were selected. Most of those were then extensively reworked and remodeled by Maczyński & Sauvage Nolting in Europe, with Moss on the line from the States, adding his two cents. Eventually, twelve tracks made the cut and there you have it: Tune IN.

The result of all this tinkering, all this back and forth, is that Tune IN never feels like Hieroglyphic Being plus saxophones. Instead, while still living happily within Moss’s overall body of work, UHF feels like a band Moss happens to be in. This distinction is important. From a PR perspective, Moss is the big name on the marquee, lit up in neon, but creatively, Maczyński is never crowded out or overshadowed by his presence. His contributions, rather than being mere embellishments, are integral threads in the fabric of the record. This thing wouldn’t be this thing without his synthetic reeds or organic sax bleats.

Ultimately, though, given how it was made, it’s impossible to tell who was responsible for what on this immensely playful album. I’m not talking about who played what instruments or programmed this or that. I’m talking about who launched this thing out of orbit, who calculated the trajectory, who chose the waypoints on this journey way out into the cosmos. In a way, that’s a beautiful thing, but on a genre-defying album such as this, one conversant in so many musical dialects, it’d be fun to know who set the course for kosmische-referencing hippy rave here, trippy fourth world meditations there, or Leslie Winer-esque spoken word swagger elsewhere. 

Because really, this late-year highlight is a conversational record. It is in dialogue – not just with the past, but with some of the most interesting things going on in the year of our lord 2023. Listening to Tune IN, you could easily conjure up a mental image of, say, UHF and James Holden hashing out ideas in a cafe or some shared studio somewhere, riffing on composition, on the relationship between jazz and the club. But where Holden’s palette on Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities is full up with psychedelic and pagan hyper-saturated greens, UHF is working mostly in outer-sphere purples of the cosmic unknown. 

But let’s put some emphasis on that ‘mostly’. In perhaps the most unexpected of the imagined encounters that occur throughout the album, ‘Can U Hear The Hum’ finds UHF in what could be a back and forth with Kate Carr’s latest, A Field Guide To Phantasmic Birds. In an alternate-reality reply to Carr’s patient, fictive field recordings of invented birdsong, UHF deliver a chaotic fantasy ecosystem, as if our intrepid aural adventurers have crash-landed on some planet further away than we can fathom. Our heroes, Moss & Maczyński, now rummaging around on the wild forest floor, mics in hand, scurrying to capture the sounds of alien flora and fauna for the first time. Or at least that’s what it sounds like.

Still, it’s a more appropriate and alluring scenario than worming around on the spill-resistant flooring of a co-work spot looking for some idiot’s broke-ass iPhone. True astral travelers like UHF deserve better than that.