CAN: SAW DELIGHT (1977)
1) Don't Say No; 2) Sunshine Day And Night; 3) Call Me; 4) Animal Waves; 5) Fly By Night.
At this point, Can got caught in Traffic, and they sure saw so much delight in this that Holger Czukay was relegated to handling the «wave receiver» and «special sounds», whereas Rosko Gee, a Jamaican bassist who'd played with Traffic on their last album, replaced Holger on his native instrument — and at the same time, Ghanaian percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah, from the same Traffic lineup, complemented Liebezeit as the band's second (and some disappointed fans might even say first) drummer. No wonder, then, that Saw Delight is sometimes presented as Can's first serious exploration of «world music», even though the band was really mixing all sorts of musical traditions as early as the late Sixties, and had a Japanese vocalist with strong ties to his native culture for about four years.
In reality, Saw Delight is a very natural and logical continuation of the overall evolution of Can's sound — the difference from Flow Motion is that they are now living in the New Wave era, and so much of the record is influenced by contemporary rhythms, inherited from the funk tradition but tightened up and brought up to the required standards of nervousness and paranoia. Rebop's percussion does add some «tribal / primal» flavor, for sure, making the first several tracks here into a direct spiritual predecessor of Talking Heads' Remain In Light (but without the same level of catchiness in its grooves, which meant that Remain In Light could bear hit singles and Saw Delight couldn't, and wasn't even supposed to), but even with all those samba beats it is merely another step along the path that began with Future Days («otherworldly ambience» → «otherworldly rhythmic ambience» → «funky atmospheric nighttime journey» → «funky reggae voodoo shit» → WORLD MUSIC!).
And despite the fact that in 1977, Can weren't exactly on the cutting edge, or at least weren't supposed to remain on the same cutting edge with so many new creative artists breathing down the necks of «progressive dinosaurs», Saw Delight is yet another excellent release from the band. They are still capable of holding down a simple, mesmerizing groove (ʽDon't Say Noʼ, with Karoli throwing out not one, but two new guitar tones, soloing with the same grim determination with which the groove is being propelled); finding a «cute» instrumental hook to which they could pin six minutes of studio jamming (ʽSunshine Day And Nightʼ is dependent upon a small acoustic phrase that wouldn't be out of place on a bluegrass album, giving the whole piece a decidedly sunshiny look); playing around with disco basslines so that they are only slightly changed to give the whole tune a scary, apocalyptic sheen (ʽCall Meʼ, with some particularly crazy guitar workouts from Karoli that presage Adrian Belew's work with King Crimson by almost half a decade). And, last but not least, they can still take a pop formula and adapt it to their own purposes — ʽFly By Nightʼ, with a little bit of imagination, could be an Olivia Newton-John number from Xanadu, with a «soaring» hook produced by guitars and synthesized strings that offers you magical salvation. But not even Jeff Lynne could procure such strange guitar tones, or agree to have all the attention drawn to the music rather than the vocals — Karoli's singing on the track is barely audible, and is really only there to give you a few hints as to what sort of visualization they'd like you to accompany this with ("fly with me through space and time till we reach forever" — sure thing, it's one hell of a smooth, silky flight).
The mammoth centerpiece of the album is ʽAnimal Wavesʼ, a 15-minute long jam that sounds like Santana, Tangerine Dream, and a Sufi musician from Morocco having a good time together (ex-Traffic members provide the Santana part, Schmidt is invoking Tangerine Dream, and Karoli's electric violin sounds very «muezzinish» — not nearly as muezzinish as the wordless vocals in the middle of the track, which is the only passage on the album that makes me actively want to strangle something). I have to admit that I find it overlong — there's just not enough happening to keep up my interest for 15 minutes, and although Karoli's solos still rule (and due to all the Near Eastern overtones, are also significantly different from everything he'd played earlier), he takes too much time to let rip. But length issues aside, it is a very moody instrumental — don't forget to bring it along for your next scheduled ride on a magic carpet, although it probably works better in tempestuous weather rather than in times of smooth sailing. (For this, please choose ʽFly By Nightʼ, which by itself makes a great atmospheric counterpoint to ʽAnimal Wavesʼ).
As you can tell, this is yet another thumbs up for yet another unjustly overlooked record; I am seriously hoping that, with time, they will come to be regarded with as much respect as contemporary Kraftwerk material, even if their charm (and innovation) are subtler and take more time to note and appreciate than something like The Man Machine.