Jake Playmo – My Favorite Toys (2007, 2012 reissue)

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If you were standing at the intersection of electronica, jazz and kraut rock, you’d be bound to bump into Jake Playmo and his Das Böse Ding band. The German saxophonist, flautist, composer and bandleader better known by his real name Jan Klare, Playmo made a record back in ’07 that came and went without nary a notice on American shores, but the German imprint Ozella is giving My Favorite Toys another deserved shot with the re-release of this adventurous outing.

Backed by Das Böse Ding, which is German for “The Evil Thing,” Playmo indulges in music like it’s a playground of “blocks, bricks and figures” meant to be positioned and put together in cool, interesting ways. Thus, the toy theme of the album and Playmo originals named after toys. Joining Playmo/Klare are Martin Scholz on organ and keyboards, Hartmut Kracht on bass, Wolfgang Ekholt on drums and percussion and American Jim Campbell handling tapes and lo-fi electronics.

Klare wants to indulge his electronics-loving Playmo alter ego, all right, but it’s tempered by that Das Böse Ding band, which wants to play music “by hand.” The result is a fun mixture where neither tendency gets the upper hand, but ends up making the jazz more interesting and the electronica more compelling, while other styles, like rock, pop and avant-garde are freely visited.

Playmo is full of ideas and he typically presents them sequentially instead of layering them. So, just as you think “Lego” is a tenacious prog-rock jam that will go forever, the band switches gears in the middle to a different groove, equally as appealing. “Revell” (Youtube below) employs the vocal talents of guest Kathrin Mander to sing wordless vocals over a bass and drums jungle groove when, once again, the switch is flipped to an electronica-based riff that eventually goes off the deep end. “Mb” is spare, electro-acoustic jazz featuring Klare paired with Scholz on piano in a lyrically attractive one-on-one, until Campbell’s electronic weirdness lurking in the background take a more prominent role as the song flirts briefly with dissonance.

Playmo never ventures far outside for too long before reverting back to pop/rock melodies, and the most accessible track “Barbie” is a soul-jazz number sung breathily with real lyrics by Mander, as Klare’s buttery alto adds a second voice. Adventurousness is never far away either, and the bridge to this song consists of labyrinthine Steely Dan chord progressions. The song crashes right into the next one, a live, funk/jazz excursion called — what else? — “Ken.”

Like other gleefully experimental/improvisational/catchy European acts like Can, Joe Higham & Al Orkesta and the Mats-Morgan Band, Jake Playmo is part of the fun music we in the States too often miss out on, and even this disc got lost on its first release five years ago. But don’t miss out on it this time around.

My Favorite Toys goes on sale October 9 by Ozella Music. Visit Jan Klare’s website for more info.

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