There’s a thin line between artfully simplistic and boring, but it is a line that Janko Nilović and The Soul Surfers manage to skilfully maintain a safe distance from throughout their new 8 track collaborative instrumental album, Maze of Sounds. Simplicity is the album’s unifying concept, and its honest and up front intentions of crafting spritely, enjoyable jams are clear from the get-go.
Janko Nilović is a name that you perhaps haven’t come across, but he is a musical figure who is far more prominent than you would expect. Born in Greece in 1941, Nilović has enjoyed a rich musical career; he has found himself playing the piano in the musical Hair, has provided the music for a broad selection of TV shows and documentaries over the last 50 years, and has even been sampled by Dr. Dre and Jay Z. After a long and successful career, and now at the age of 79, Nilović continues to deliver, most recently in collaboration with Russian funk/soul group The Soul Surfers on Maze of Sounds.
What keeps this album fresh throughout is the satisfying rotation of instruments between tracks. Whether it’s the warbling organ of the title track ‘Maze of Sounds’, or the delicate flute puffs of ‘Say It Softly,’ the album provides a great breadth of instrumental variation, giving it an almost live feel. Each instrument knows exactly what its supposed to be doing, and this straight-forward and, yes, artfully simple approach to the album gives it real appeal. A personal favourite is ‘Wavy’, in which a dynamic bass line hops and shuffles beneath a wandering piano melody and an almost hiphop-y drum beat. Whilst all the elements of the track are steady and simple, they combine to form an upbeat and captivating groove.
The album as a whole takes on a personality of being very much laid back and and comfortable in its own skin. Often with albums of this nature, there is an air of panic, as numerous instrumental layers compete to fill in the absence of vocals. Over-produced synth work and overcrowded soundscapes can sometimes feel claustrophobic. Maze of Sounds remains calm and collected, and is not afraid to cruise along for a while with a smooth and simple baseline. There is plenty of space, which is quite refreshing for an instrumental album. This album isn’t afraid to take a breath, but rather welcomes the pause, which is perhaps why it pays off so much.