Sharing a common bond with other forward-thinking electronic artists like Kruder & Dorfmeister, Thievery Corporation and Jazzanova, Vlado dZihan and Mario Kamien have always leaned toward inclusion, constantly feeding the desire to reach past borders and divisions both musical and cultural. dZihan, hailing from Sarajevo originally, hooked up with Kamien at music school in Vienna after discovering a common appreciation for Arabic strings and the unique key structures and modulations found in Turkish melody. Kamien’s bloodlines can be traced through Germany, Italy and Poland, and the duo’s cultural and artistic mix quickly jelled into a hypnotic, distinctive blend of urbane downtempo. Their debut, Freaks & Icons, quickly propelled them into the upper ranks of the genre. The record’s jazzy texture, trip-hop rhythms and Eastern ambience, brought the twosome instant recognition, which only intensified with the follow-up remix record Refreaked. For that record, some of Vlado and Mario’s friends (Mum and Hefner, among others) dropped by to perform in-studio remix magic on their tracks, resulting in sometimes subtle, sometimes radical shifts in tone and style.
With Gran Riserva, the pair cast an even wider net, corralling rhythms from Brazil, deep reggae grooves and a new emphasis on jazz and lounge aesthetics. Their ambitions were matched by an increasingly impressive songwriting ability, born out of both men’s backgrounds as acoustic musicians. These guys weren’t just trying to chill us out, they were opening our minds to the possibilities of music, and finding common ground between the electronic and the organic.
Live In Vienna captures dZihan & Kamien at the fulcrum of where those two musical impulses reside. With a complement of 20 musicians on stage, it’s an amazing example of how beautiful something can be when it comes together naturally, though it didn’t happen without some work. “After long and exhausting rehearsals, the night was sparkling,” they say. “An anticipating crowd was waiting for us to hit the stage and play the first show, which was the most exciting thing that we did since we started playing music together. Beautiful!”
The pair knew they had something special when they started gathering their “dream team” of musicians: “We could invite some string players from Turkey and just play with them … yes, this could be exciting! But what to do afterwards? Playing a couple of tunes with this concept is very nice but how to keep the tension the whole night? Well, we could also invite some percussion players as well, [like] our friend Sammy Figueroa, the guy who has played on a lot of major records in the ’70s and ’80s. Could we find a way to also invite Ahmet Misirli, the darbuka master? Wow, these two guys combined with the dj-ing and strings?! This could be outstanding…” With all these amazing people on board it was not so difficult to translate the DK sound into an orchestral performance.” Ultimately performed with a full orchestra, and with guest stars like Miles Davis percussionist Sammy Figueroa, drummer for Massive Attack and Moloko, Andrew Small, and vocalist Ma. Dita, the show turned Gran Riserva‘s tracks inside out, exposing the record’s soft tone poetry.
While most of the record consists of material from Gran Riserva, a few songs from Freaks & Icons show up as well, stripped and reborn, made risky and new. “Homebase” profits from the softer edge of dZihan’s piano work, but the band’s horn section is the real star of this track, providing the song with a blast of funk-powered momentum. Of the Gran Riserva material, the highlights come in waves; drum machines give way to nimble percussion and strings waft through the mix like tea leaves drifting in the ocean. From their obvious enthusiasm, the Viennese audience knew full well what was unfolding before them.
Given the joy and respect dZihan & Kamien bring to their music, it’s no wonder they’ve amassed their share of popularity and admiration. The sound, a rich amalgam of multi-cultural dynamism, edgy electronic form, and lessons learned under the tutelage of their jazz musician fathers, is impossible to pin down. Full of flowing beats and melodic lines from Europe old and new, east and west, the duo uses downtempo, lounge music, ambient world beat and seaside chill music, but only as reference points in a topsy-turvy mix. Their latest record fulfills an implicit promise to themselves that was made before they ever got in a producer’s chair, a promise to expand their musicianship and embrace their heritage.