Ashra - "@shra" (Live in Japan)
(Think Progressive 1998, TPCD 1.807.026)
From Aural Innovations #5 (January 1999)
This is the latest offering from Manuel Göttsching's current quartet, now simply Ashra (previously Ash Ra Tempel), an hour-long live recording comprised of four extended instrumental jams each of significant length. I must admit that the recordings I know from Göttsching's past are all from the decade of the 70's, so I guess I just wasn't aware as to his current modus operandi - that being techno beats and loops. So it seems that he's gone the way of Steve Hillage and has embraced modern technology to its stale and artificial limit.
For these Japan shows, Göttsching brought along two long-term cohorts (guitarist Lutz Ulbrich (ex-Agitation Free) and drummer Harald Grosskopf) as well as Steve Baltes, who obviously helped with the keyboards and programming. The problem is, no matter how much you might love the psychedelic improvisation of either guitarist (both of whom are among the very best in that department), what really matters is if you can stand the programmed beats. And I can't. (Though I find it sounds much better played on a small box stereo than through speakers with large woofers...imagine that!) I mean, the opening track "Echo Waves" is easily recognizable (originally appearing on Inventions...), but it's just a totally different entity with the techno backing beat. "Niemand lacht Rückwärts" (No One Laughs Backwards) is the same story...wonderful extended guitar soloing, atmospherics, and some Grosskopf drum fills, but it's all secondary to the stale, antiseptic techno aspect. (This track also appeared on the 2-CD Private Tapes collection (on Purple Pyramid), recorded many years ago before Göttsching got the crazy idea to infect his music with a techno virus.)
The one respite from this tragedy is the absolutely wonderful "Timbuktu" (penned by Grosskopf), which actually relies on acoustic drumming and twin guitar strumming to carry the beat...what a concept! With a bit of Caribbean flair to the guitar interplay, and the synths used more as sampled noises rather than as a beat, it sounds both modern and eminently cultivated. Too bad it's only 8 minutes long. So it's easy to make a recommendation on this CD...save your money and go spend it on The Private Tapes, one of the year's very best releases.
Reviewed by Keith Henderson