Politika “The Haywain” album review

Hashima – Haywain (Metropolis Jazz, 2017)

The Haywain collection you have the chance to hear, the second album by Hashima band, became a thriller piece before they even got to record a single note. Newspaper Politika published an article titled “Can You Turn Mokranjac Into Jazz and Kornelije Kovač Into Rap” signed by Mirjana Sretenović, where the daughter of Vasilije Mokranjac announced that she will ban any tempering with her father’s legacy, trying to prevent it from “degrading into someone’s sheer entertainment”!

This catapulted an obscure, Belgrade based quartet into the same orbit with mega-sellers of Balkan music – Kornelije Kovač, Vlatko Stefanovski and Goran Bregović. When he read the article, Mišković yelled, ‘I’m gonna record Echoes now!’ – an album that would contain all six Dances for Piano by Mokranjac. Now, when I listen to Haywain, I’m glad he gave up on the idea.

Much more appreciation for Hashima’s experiments was shown by editorial team of RTS production. In late March 2016, Radio Belgrade’s Third Programme invited them to play as part of the radio’s live concerts series broadcasted from the legendary Studio Six. That night somehow they dropped “Dance No.2” from the set list and played the entire „The Haywain Triptych” instead, a bold premiere of a work in progress, while the nation watched live broadcast on national TV. Alreadythen it looked like the new record will by far surpass their debut album.

Six months later, I met Igor in Studio Six again. When we heard that Nikola Marković managed to book Susana Santos Silva for the NOVA Festival, I thought that this lady from Portugal would make an ideal guest appearance on Hashima new album. But it hasn’t been easy at all: they had to change flights, then to boost the band into a single-day recording session, right after Susana’s performance with Kaja Draksler.

That late afternoon in Goran Crevar’s studio, with pizza, beer and the famous Dylan’s album cover Suze Rotolo keeping us company we listened to the fresh recordings. Mišković was not happy with it, he asked Susana and the band to record one more take, and then another, although take one was perfectly good! A photo from a bar in Senjak perfectly illustrates this instant friendship. It captured big Igor and petite Susana with Bajaga and Riblja Čorba providing muted background music!

And just like in Hitchcock movies, the first ending of a thriller is usually a fake: instead of just accepting Nicolas Baillard’s first mastering version, Hayvan had to make another six trips to France and back before Igor said he was happy with the sound. When Goran and Igor wanted to hear the full album on my tube stereo for the last time, I ordered from them giros and beer and left them alone.

One month later…

Introduction to the first theme “Dance No. 3” already lasts longer than the piece by Vasilije Mokranjac that inspired it. The first, cautious attempt to start the dance is violently interrupted by Susana’s manic scream, calling into action Mišković’s guitar and Vanja Todorović’s bass. Srđan Mijalković and Silva pick up the theme from there in a question & answer manner, doubling and canon. Deep distress at the beginning of the album is marked by the Balkan minor scale. Susana plays the solo: her trumpet is unconsciously steeped into the sorrow of our South like a prayer to gods, rising above the heavy metal of the guitar, bass and drums, and the saxophone in the end, a super powerful machine that would propel her to the skies and make her loud enough to be heard. Between proper melodies and atonal extravaganza, cry and flutter, tranquillity and anxiety, this lady from Portugal emits sheer passion, while Igor’s guitar stirs up the same storm that managed to launch “Since I’ve Been Loving You” from Madison Square Garden straight up to White Blues heaven. After the first energy drop, all together they burst out the second part of the theme, and after Mišković’s soft-toned bridge, they perform the final attack with a short and passionate coda.

Rich, wooden sound of double bass opens the next composition, “Iris of the Eye”. This is a meticulously written étude where Mišković and his fellow musicians get to show their skills. Their favourite 3/4 time signature appears and disappears in rubato ambitions. Swaying and staggering is done with great authority, displaying not only perfect understanding between musicians, but Igor’s bandleader skills, too. At first, the saxophone is in the foreground: the warm tone corresponds closely to the tranquil dark green iris, before the swing flash pushes it into a swift jazzy action, expanding the rainbow green ring. Then, the guitar takes the lead, fluctuating between soft and hard sound, string picking and riffs. However, saxophone returns at the very end, completing the picture with a quote from the ballad “My Funny Valentine” (just like they quoted “Over the rainbow” on their debut album): that melody underlining the eye is bound to make you smile – like a sentimental lover’s dance under a disco ball before sunrise.

“The Haywain Tryptich” suite is indeed inspired by Hieronymus Bosch’s eponymous panel painting. With literature and film also incorporated into this work,  Mišković builds a piece on four basic pillars of modern art, demonstrating his eclectic interests and prompting listener awareness about this work’s program nature along with pure sound fascination.

The first part of the suite, “Ray of the Microcosm” represents, like the left panel, the creation of man and his fall into sin. This piece is also influenced by the Njegoš poem “The Ray of the Microcosm”. The composer paints the innocence of creation with flageolets, ending it with a thunder by the entire band and leading up to a lyrical melody on saxophone as a prelude to the original sin. Just like on the first album, we hear distant echoes of Pink Floyd. The sin has been committed and the band continues to rock on with a repetitive judgment from the angels.

The kinetic groove of Haywain creates a soundtrack for the large wagon of hay at Bosch’s triptych central panel. The saxophone and the guitar catalyze seven deadly sins: at first they sound timidly comical, gradually they become more expressive and turbulent mocking the steady rhythm of drum and bass until they shut it down completely, and finally they jointly deliver another of portion of shame and rage. Shorter than the other two parts, this one creates a cute absurd compared to Bosch’s painting. Apparently, Mišković finds extremes much more interesting.

Finally, we find ourselves in hell. The finale, “Satantango” named after the seven-hour film directed by the Hungarian Béla Tarr, sets us in our time and represents, just like the extraordinary film saga, criticism of the society we live in. The band cross-matches eerie, soft sequences with extremely effective Igor’s chanting into the microphone set inside the guitar F hole, as well as joint thunder with piercing Srđan’s saxophone. The album closes the circle by returning to the Balkans and its harmonic modes cut by Aleksandar Hristić’s floor tom as if starting a shota.

“The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Bosch makes a great cover art for Deep Purple III album, my favourite. Half a century later, it is time for the art of this Dutch painter to be of service to popular music again,, showing the right way to the album by this Serbian quartet. I can’t wait to listen to “April” and “Lalena” before I go to bed, but I’d rather wake up to our Hayvans in the morning.

Vojislav Pantić