2022 (Talking Elephant)
About once a year, I buy a CD from a band that is completely unknown to me. I haven’t read anything about the album in question either. So it’s a pure gamble, although I must say that I’ve already heard plenty of enthusiasm through word of mouth.
That’s how I recently acquired “The Murder Wall”, the third album by British band Kaprekar’s Constant. The album arrived just in time in my life, right before a hospital stay that ended up lasting five weeks. Apparently, I was the only rocker ever in the intensive care unit because there was great surprise when I showed up there with my CD player and accessories. I played “The Murder Wall” incessantly and it wasn’t just to pass the time. The album has everything to captivate you every day.
But first, something about that unusual band name. Wikipedia says the following: the number 6174 is known as Kaprekar’s constant, named after the Indian mathematician Shri Dattathreya Ramachandra Kaprekar. Clear?
“The Murder Wall” is a coherent album without any odd jumps or erratic detours. That could have easily been different. Kaprekar’s Constant is a seven-piece band and the album in question lasts exactly 75 minutes, give or take a second. So there’s plenty of room for a misstep. The reason it doesn’t happen is that all the compositions are written by a tight-knit trio: Nick Jefferson (bass guitar, guitar, keyboards), Al Nicholson (guitar, keyboards, piano, mandolin) and Mike Westergaard (piano, keyboards, guitar, backing vocals). Their noses point proudly in the same direction and in the case of this album, it’s straight up. “The Murder Wall” tells stories about the numerous ascents of the left side of the Eiger, a mountain in Switzerland. This side is incredibly steep and climbing it is considered extremely dangerous. Over the years, it has been the backdrop for various tragedies and triumphs.
To bring the stories to life, there’s the vocal duo of Dorie Jackson and Bill Jefferson. They don’t fall into extravagant expressions but instead bring their own integrity. She sounds tight, clear and sweet. He has an endearing, somewhat languid voice. They blend perfectly together, as if they were cast for this album. In the opening track, Prologue, you can already hear how beautifully they sing and that feeling only grows stronger as the CD progresses. Dorie Jackson delivers a beautiful performance in the ballad Failure Takes Care Of Its Own. The sparkling piano playing is also wonderfully done.
At this stage of the album, we hear stories of missions that didn’t end well and like an angel, Judie Tzuke sings about perfecting the climbs. The song Victorious represents the first time the summit was reached. It’s easy to imagine that this results in musical euphoria. There are notable stories behind songs like Third Man Down and A Silent Drum. Third Man Down is about a climbing expedition of two men, one of whom accidentally drops his jacket from the mountain. A film crew, who happened to be making a documentary on another mountain, captured the moment, leading to the question of who the mysterious third man was. A Silent Drum, in my opinion the best song on the album, is about someone who completes the journey that was fatal for his father forty years ago. The album continues delightfully and I have time to analyze the music more closely.
First and foremost, there’s a delightful blend of progressive music and folk. This gives the band’s sound some similarities to the music of artists like Mike Oldfield, Steeleye Span, Mostly Autumn, Moody Blues, Barclay James Harvest, Cat Stevens, Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull and Renaissance. Guitar, keyboards and bass guitar complement each other ingeniously, almost unnoticed, without taking the spotlight with a solo or anything of the sort. There are also delightful integrations of mandolin and accordion, but what really gets me excited are the saxophone and flute parts played by the absolute hero, David Jackson. He has demonstrated the impact of a thematic approach on the albums of Van Der Graaf Generator and you can hear him so often, so often with Kaprekar’s Constant. It’s a true pleasure to hear him play and thanks to his contributions, “The Murder Wall” has reached the top for me.
It was a good move on my part to buy “The Murder Wall” purely on a whim and it won’t end there. Family expansion is coming to my CD collection. There are two more little Kaprekars eagerly waiting to be placed on the shelf.
© Dick van der Heijde 2023