Album Reviews

Issue 2020-060: Kedama Inter-Review

1976 saw the release of a remarkable album by Swiss band Kedama. 25 years later it was re-released, with bonus tracks, which is when I learnt about this album and band (review here). And roughly another 20 years later there's another re-issue with more bonus tracks. I had a chance to ask guitarist Christian Linder (CL), keyboard player Richard Rothenburger (RR), and drummer Peter Suter (PS) about it.

Another reissue of your first album! How does that feel?

CL: We're a little surprised! 50 years ago we did something we were quite successful with in Switzerland. But we wanted to bring our music out into the whole world. And now, so many years later, a triple album is actually released by an American producer. Unbelievable!

PS: The recognition we receive after so many years certainly makes us feel very good.

RR: It's great, of course, but also a little strange. I don't know where our path would have gone if this interest of today has already been there in the seventies. We were obsessed by our music for a couple of years and we had been knowing all along that our music was something special.

Not long before this reissue you found some old live recordings and received the unique LP with another live recording. With just the LP and bonus tracks available from the 1970s, how was it finding this stuff?

CL: The Sunrise recordings were already there, of course. The second album was recorded on 8-track but never released. Then we knew from an old acquaintance that he had produced an LP from a recording he made - just one, single LP. A few years ago, we thought it was time that we could get these recordings back. The LP was in a bad condition, unfortunately. Then Richard still had some tapes from the early days. We didn't remember what was on them, though. And someone else brought him a tape with recordings of a concert as well. That tape belonged to a Kedama fan who passed away a few years aho. His relatives found the tape with Richard's name on it.

PS: Some of those tapes have been in the attic of Richie Rothenberger for many years. Some of them found their way to him in a mysterious way. Richie can tell you this story in his own words.

RR: The story behind it is that about 25 or 30 years ago I got a call from a guy form Zürich. He was the owner of a independent label shop. He asked if I was the keyboarder of Kedama. I said "yes". He said it was easy to find me, because apparently I was the only Richard Rothenberger in Switzerland. And this was the time before Google! The reason for his call: he got a bag from with some old tapes in it, tapes of Kedama. He thought it would be the best if those tapes came back to the band. For a long time we had no idea what was on them. We were never able to listen to that material because they were recorded with a 4-track Revox and my Revox is a 2-track machine! These were original tapes from the 1970s, some usable, others not. The ones we could use were live recordings, one from Zürich-Forch 1974, the other from Jugendkeller Schaffhausen 1976.

The original issue was a very limited edition (resulting in a very expensive title among collectors). The first reissue gave us a whole album worth of bonus tracks, but that has been out of print as well. Now this 3LP reissue, originating in the USA, makes all of this available again plus even more bonus tracks. What do you think of how the 1970s era keeps on spreading over the world?

RR: It is fantastic! Great! The request from Castle Face Records for the 3-LP reissue was the reason for the rescue of the tapes in the paper bag. New bonus tracks! Maybe there is even some more unreleased material somewhere.

CL: Maybe those were the "good old days"? Throughout the years, young musicians have been telling me that in the past they had to make a bigger effort. It was still a real handcraft. It is much easier to work now, but the times have become more difficult. Maybe just nostalgia? It is not worse today.

RR: The music era of the 1970s was unique. A big change from The Beatles and so on through Who, Led Zeppelin, Ten Years After, and everyone else at that time to Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, and continued to King Crimson, Gentle Giant, PFM and so on. It's never ending.

PS: The roots of the modern music, this includes movie-soundtracks as well, lay in the innovations of the progrock era of the late 60s and the 70s. With many people this original music still seems to resonate. I believe it is the honesty and freshness of the Kedama-music, as well as its daring complexity that impresses still new generations. Apparently there are still people out there with a longer attention span than only 20 seconds.

Living in Switzerland and playing this kind of music, I guess it must have been hard to find an audience? Do you think things would have been different if the band was located in Germany, for example?

CL: We very quickly had quite a relative success in Switzerland with the many concerts we played. At that time there were not a lot of opportunities, but we had no reason to complain. At that time it was considered not-done to talk about money. We did get our fees, but that was usually just enough to buy food. If we had been in Germany or even in England, it would certainly have been better for us. The Netherlands were also known for good rock bands at that time.

PS: Our concerts were always well attended and sold out with audiences between 600 and 2000 people. And we always received an enormously enthusiastic response. But this was not enough for a commercial success needed to survive financially. I think in Germany it wouldn't have been very different. Almost all groups that were given the opportunity to grow big came from England.

RR: Finding an audience for this kind of music is not easy anywhere in this world. But we were an insiders' tip in Switzerland. So no, I don't think it would have made a difference. I believe if you are in the right place at the right time it will work. It doesn't depend on the country. Maybe we just were ahead of our time.

Looking back at all these recordings reaching almost 50 years of age, how do you look back on those early years of the band?

PS: We had a great time as a band and we composed our music without peeking to commercial gains. At the concerts the connection to the audience was always great. It felt like as we were giving a contemporary version of classical music to a hippie-crowd. As the name Kedama indicates, taken from a type of hashish called "kethama", our listeners could get the full dimensions of our music when they were high from marihuana or LSD.

CL: After Kedama we all felt very bad. There were mountains of debt to be cleared and the years of self-destruction had made us tired. We could no longer listen to our music. We just didn't like this music anymore for a while. For some years, for a very long time... At some point we could listen to it again and we liked it again. Richard and I started playing together again and the desire was there again. Especially the live recordings inspire us all.

RR: It was a chaotic, happy time for me, and I think for Christian and Peter too. It's a little bit crazy to see people beginning to love our music 45 years after we made it. We do love crazy things!

Interview by Jerry van Kooten.
Photos from the albums and the collection of Christian Linder, used by kind permission.

Kedama — The Complete Collection [3LP]

Kedama - The Complete Collection
Disc 1 Live at Sunrise Studios (33:00): Overture (7:28), Finale (12:03), Our Power (3:59), Zugabe (9:28)
Disc 2 Live at Sunrise Studios Outtakes (39:07): Chinese Dragon (9:56), Hwrklnzg (2:49), Honey Moon (5:44), Improvisations (3:03), Intermezzo (6:24), Two Souls In Space (7:12), Feelings Without Name (3:57)
Disc 3, Previously Unreleased (36:07): Mad Circus Part 1 (1:51), Mad Circus Part 2 (4:29), Acid (4:34), Laki's Head (7:24), Generator Part of Water (2:05), Take It Easy (6:24), Our Power (4:12), The Fool (5:03)
Jerry van Kooten

Kedama is one of those names that not a lot of people know about, but among those who do, it is kept in high regard.

Their 1976 debut album is a collectors' item. An original copy can cost you 500 dollars these days! Almost a decade ago, I reviewed the first re-issue of the album that appeared on the Swiss label Black Rills Records. This CD included two bonus tracks from a compilation album from a few years before (interesting piece of trivia: for the track Two Souls In Space, the line-up included a bass player; he was not interested enough and left shortly afterwards), and more importantly a session that was recorded at the same studios a few years later, and although slated for the band's second album, was never released.

The current item under review is a 3LP re-issue. The first two LPs contain the same tracks as the Black Rills CD. I could repeat a lot of words from that review or simply refer to it by adding that link above, but I thought it would be interesting to have a look at how the music has held up in the 20 years since the re-issue, and, for the first four tracks, an astonishing 45 years after the original release.

In all that time, the price of a copy of that first pressing has never gone down, even with the album becoming available on CD. An album does not do that when people don't like it. Musical styles change, as does how fashionable those styles remain. Old fans are getting older, new fans are getting born and made (I read that taste appears to be a combination of nature and nurture). So that consistent collectors' price is testament to the quality of the music.

I still listen to the album, and that has not changed over the 20 years since I first heard the CD. My taste has shifted (both expanded and narrowed in some directions) but Kedama was among a bunch of bands that just stayed with me. At the time I thought the music sounded a bit dated, but here I am, still listening to it. The other characteristics still apply, even though Yes is one of those bands that floated outside my taste range.

LP 3 is a real bonus here and contains previously unreleased live material. You can read the short version of the story about these live recordings in the interview above, or read a longer interview with Kedama here. Especially the story about the fan who had a single LP made from a gig he recorded. It must have cost a fortune in the early 70s. He wrote, well, pressed history there.

It's wonderful to hear this band play live, to hear the differences between their live sounds and studio recordings. Of course, the first album was recorded live in the studio, but with LP recordings in mind, I can imagine things are different than when playing for an audience. You can go crazy, when playing live. And they do. According to the noise, the audience really liked it. As do I!

Mad Circus has an intro that fits the title, but it's not typical for the rest of the album. The remainder and main part of the song is a frantic progressive play that touches the good things of Yes but really is in a space of its own, and touches a lot more. All the songs show what you already know from the previous sides, but now with more live power, more freedom.

The music moves in a wide range of progressive rock. Heavy riffing with organ, like a more progressive Deep Purple, or a heavier ELP. Mellotron soundscapes in a Genesis style, classical-influenced piano pieces, and intricate guitar melodies like Mahavishnu Orchestra.

But I also hear many things that I would contribute to other bands who happened later. With their first gigs being as early as 1972, they were almost ahead of their time. I can imagine that living in Switzerland might have been a hold-back for them. Perhaps if they would have been German they would have been there with the likes of Birth Control or Amon Düül II, and made a bigger impact at the time? Who knows. It doesn't matter though, we can hear it now and that's a very good thing.

My tolerance for technically showing-off is not very big. Therefore I am glad such a thing is not happening here. Though sometimes complex, it's the spacey, sometimes weird, sometimes aggressive attitude towards rhythms and melodies that make this quite the aural experience.

Rothenberger's keyboard reminds me of what Keith Emerson could do if he would stop experimenting on what's possible with the instruments and other tools, and just play and improvise on the music. ELP live without the noodling, without the going so far over-the-top that it's not even music anymore. The result is exciting, daring, without making a mess. Rothernburger's keyboard and Linder's guitar melodies add another contrast, making a very interesting soundscape made by just three people. They must have been very tight and on the same wavelength, or this would become a mess.

Every time I realise that this was a young band in a difficult genre in a small country, it makes the availability of these recordings even more special.

All the studio recordings that the band ever did are available (again) now. Some of the studio tracks were also found on the live recordings, but for this release, only Our Power is present in both a studio and a live version.

The box has been released as a regular 3LP set, but a limited edition has coloured vinyl (green, yellow, and blue transparent) is available, and on Bandcamp you can buy the digital version.

The review I wrote 20 years ago was written after I just had learnt about the band. I liked it a lot then, but so many years later, this has grown on me more and more. It's safe to say this is going to stay with me for many more years.

Album Reviews