Who or what is the Phantom Band? Unknown, or unheard, by even the most die-hard CAN fan, this side project by founding CAN drummer Jaki Liebezeit and late-CAN era bassist (and ex-Traffic member) Rosko Gee finds them exploring the most trance-inducing part of CAN’s music – their reggae and African musical influences – to surprising results. It’s all these things: jazzy, funky as hell, and astonishingly accessible. Not everyone can go down into the keyhole of post-Future Days CAN tripped-out polyrhythmic music (think Soon Over Babaluma), but this can serve as a great gateway back to those headier days.
Featuring future members of CAN-influenced German New Wave band Dunkelziffer – Dominik V. Senger (lead vocalist and guitarist) and Helmut Zerlett (keyboards) – as Michael Karoli and Irmin Schmidt stand-ins, Phantom Band allowed Jaki Liebezeit, specifically, to sprawl out in rhythmic directions later-day CAN was struggling to fully integrate. Recorded by visionary producer Conny Plank in 1980, their whole self-titled debut bounces from one hypnotic number to another. The closest analog I can think of is this being a German Cedric Im Brooks The Light of Saba; reggae filtered through all kinds of more uptempo dance styles. Although, truth be told, the best numbers are the one’s where the band sidesteps their lead vocalist altogether and just stick to their CAN-in-Lagos sound.
If one could criticize this album for something, it’s that Dominik’s vocals seem to belong with another band altogether — maybe the Alan Parson’s Project? Although in “No More Fooling” this criticism actually works to his favor. So, don’t let what I’m saying deter you. Highlights like “For M.” featuring some of the deepest, most locked-in grooves of that era, blink and you’ll miss them ethno-experiments like “Phantom Drums” and “Latest News” – the latter being a track begging for someone to sample and take into the dance floor, or stuff that you could theoretically dance to – like “Absolutely Straight” – but end up sitting back and soaking in the atmosphere…simply scream of a band tapping into unexplored nooks and crannies still waiting for others to take the baton and run with. I mean, how many times in your life are you going to hear a Latin-tinged instrumental ballad, subsumed under the influence of modernist Cologne musical aesthetics?