Mimika Orchestra Divinities of the Earth and the Waters
(PDV029. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Think of them as the Art Ensemble of Zagreb. Mimika are far more than a conventional big band; the territory they inhabit is closer to Sun Ra’s Arkestra, with a large and constantly shifting membership, a devotion to science fiction, fantasy and folklore, strange theatrical make-up and costumes. Often sounding more like jazz-inflected 20th century ‘classical’ than pure jazz (previous reviewers have mentioned Stravinsky and Bartok), the tracks mostly clock in at over ten minutes, each developing into mysterious mini-epics.
Mimika is a vehicle for the fertile imagination and music of the prolific composer and saxophonist Mak Murtic. Since its foundation in London eight years ago, the Anglo-Croatian outfit have received plenty of attention, winning Jazz FM’s Discovery competition and appearing at the Love Supreme festival, which is where I first saw them, and was blown away by the excitement and power of their live show.
The music of this new album, their fourth, was premiered in London in 2016, and the recording features no fewer than 30 musicians. So original is their sound that one struggles to describe it: in fact, no words come close to encompassing the sheer scale of Murtic’s musical ambition. Mimika’s rhythms and musical scales are rarely straightforward, from a Western European perspective: this is the sound of the Balkans, after all, as on the whirling folk-dance sections of Song of Sorrow.
The instrumentation varies – tuba, sousaphone, guitar and electronics augment the usual big band line-up, as well as the Cretan lyra (a three-stringed violin-like instrument) and Croatian tamburitza (a long-necked lute). Mimika is fronted by singer Maja Rivic, alongside one or more others (I seem to recall there were at least four at Love Supreme). At times the voices come to the fore, as on Pantheon, although God alone knows what they’re singing or chanting about. On this track, the impression is of someone having an extraordinarily vivid dream, shading into nightmare by the end. According to the sleeve, the album as a whole is a psychedelic funeral ceremony dedicated to former band member Oberon King, who died in 2015.
Avant-garde and strident though it often sounds, Divinities of the Earth and the Waters is often highly melodic too, particularly Colonnade Beneath the World. As with most large ensembles, the strangeness of Mimika is best experienced live. In the meantime, this album paints a wonderful picture in sound.