About the album
In Greek, plasma is defined as a malleable substance. It’s what stars are made of. When lightning strikes, plasma is created. In essence, it's matter in a high energy state. Poetically speaking, however, it’s something akin to nature’s special effects, i.e., it’s what makes beautiful, magical things transpire; whether it’s the seemingly infinite spray of fire suspended out in space or the flickering, buzzing, multi-colored signs cluttering a narrow side-street in Hong Kong.
On their fourth full-length record, Ikarus turns their attention towards what is officially considered the fourth state of matter, hence the title: Plasma. Plasma marks a major shift for the band—away from the sonically “immersive” and towards an almost tactile, physical quality of sound: the type that is associated with functional electronica. This is also Ikarus at their most affecting, playful, and fluent. There’s a lot of latent hope found in these compositions, and the turns are wild! Their rhythmic and harmonic equations are as complex as ever—on Altaelva the time signature changes from 7/4 to 6/4 to 5/4 respectively—but their delivery is marked by a lightness and infused with a spectral gradient of emotion.
The fact that this is the work of a seasoned quintet has a lot to do with this; but this record is also the first in the band’s catalog where the songs were developed collectively. In the spring of 2021, Ramón Oliveras shared his initial sketches with the rest of the band and they were explored during an intense series of recorded rehearsals. Some of the compositions were fleshed out further, others reduced—all of them arranged to suit the specific requirements of the quintet. During the process, individual members picked their own battles. Vocalist Anna Hirsch focused on fleshing out melodies (see e.g. Tritium). Lucca Fries experimented with harmonic ideas and refined his muted playing style even further. He also worked closely with Ramón, sharing arrangement duties. Mo Meyer looked for novel ways to make the upright sound like a bass synth without resorting to any audio effects. Andreas Lareida continued to expand the range of possible vocal sounds. Improvisation was a big part of these pre-production sessions, with the song Cocoro being born during a particularly inspired one. Once recorded, the material was mixed by Jan Wagner, who was responsible for accentuating the electronica-inflected sound aesthetic which the band was after.
“The music we make, and this record especially, is not identifiable in terms of regional music culture,” says band leader Ramón Oliveras. He continues, “All five members of Ikarus have very different tastes, and we also have our own history at this point, which we can and often reference. If I think of a song like Sessapinae, for example, as a listener I could make connections to a variety of ethnic vocal traditions (although none of them were specific sources of inspiration), be it from Bulgaria, Turkey, Switzerland, or India—but how this is experienced will vary from listener to listener. The same thing applies to some of our grooves. Plasma is the type of album where if you don't tell people where it’s from, it's almost impossible for them to guess correctly.”
The record, like that stuff lighting up a rural sky, is an energy. It’s something awe-inspiring, both familiar and alien. It’s also five instrumentalists who figured out how to maintain their individual voices while becoming one: a seamless, highly malleable substance.
Ikarus is a contemporary groove jazz quintet that explores permutating polyrhythms against a framework of functional grooves and melodies, using improvisation as a key vehicle. Their sound is built around the mesmeric qualities of a blend of two vocals and driving rhythmic sections deployed with the intent of having a kinetic effect on the human body. They are: Ramón Oliveras (drums, artistic director), Anna Hirsch (vocals), Andreas Lareida (vocals), Lucca Fries (piano), and Mo Meyer (upright bass). To date, Ikarus has released a total of three LPs: all of them on Nik Bärtsch’s boutique label Ronin Rhythm Records. They toured Europe and Japan extensively and are part of the “high priority jazz program" of Swiss art council Pro Helvetia. They are considered one of the flagship groups of the Swiss jazz scene