NIK TURNER & YOUTH
Hawkwind veteran and ambient house pioneer team up in space.
Anybody familiar with Nik Turner’s oeuvre will no doubt raise a knowing eyebrow upon seeing the title of this collaboration with uber producer and Killing Joke bassist Youth. After being kicked out of Hawkwind in 1976, Turner travelled to Egypt and ended up recording a series of flute improvisations in the Grand Pyramid of Giza. These would be the foundation of Xitintoday by Nik Turner’s Sphynx, an album recorded with various members of Gong and based on the Egyptian Book Of The Dead.
Pharaohs From Outer Space has other musical resonances as well, the most telling one being its evocation of Sun Ra’s Egyptology-entwined music of the spheres. These echoes and references are no doubt deliberate, but what this album delivers is a very 21st-century take on electro-ambient cosmic jazz, Turner’s sax and flute weaving their way through widescreen Logic-driven soundscapes. But it’s testament to Youth’s considerable skill as a composer and sonic alchemist that Pharaohs… feels vital and organic. Rather than set the controls for the heart of the drone, these tracks unfurl in multiple directions without just drifting into the void.
What’s really pleasing to hear is how well Turner has been recorded. Often criticised for lacking traditional technique, the feeling and emotion he puts into his playing comes over clearly here, and far outweighs any quibbles about his chops. Also striking is the lack of effects on his sound, in contrast to the alien glossolalia he’s usually associated with. Instead, his tone throughout is warm and rich, the human element inside Youth’s complex interstellar simulations.
Almost inevitably, the graceful note clusters of sax and chiming electronica of tracks such as Toltec Flying Pyramid recall the melancholy futurism of Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack, but there are also strong hints of players such as textural minimalist Jan Garbarek and ‘Fourth World’ fusioneer Jon Hassell. Unsurprisingly, Youth has cited ECM as a major inspiration for his new label Painted Word, of which Pharaohs… is a flagship release.
Another key track is the ecstatic techno of Junk DNA, which could almost be Tangerine Dream interpreting Floyd’s One Of These Days. Turner takes his time and picks his phrases carefully, projecting a sense of space into the music. The luminous digital waltz of Heruxuti and the urgent, pulsating title track similarly draw on Youth’s ambient trance background, but there are more reflective moments too, such as the sombre piano and flute of Don’t Stand Still In The Sky.
Gloriously out-there, this album reaffirms Nik Turner’s status as a cosmic citizen par excellence.
A 21ST-CENTURY TAKE ON ELECTRO-AMBIENT