Smashers of the Past - Jaki Liebezeit of Can

Jaki Liebezeit playing drums

Forty-six years ago a collective of musicians in Germany known as Can put out one of the most ahead-of-its-time pieces of art to ever exist: Tago Mago.  The band's third album, and first with with singer Damo Suzuki,a Smasher in his own right, must have sounded like an alien transmission from the future when it arrived in February of 1971. Sorta like if Rufus went to Cologne, Germany in 1971 instead of San Dimas, CA in 1988 (Google it). It's the kind of album a record store clerk, when such an animal existed, would nod approvingly to rather than smugly judging you for buying.  Of the many evolutionary leaps made on Tago Mago, Jaki Liebezeit's drumming stands out in that it anchors the band with identifiable grooves while also smuggling in wild patterns and accents without sacrificing musicality.  

There is an embarassment of riches to choose from when searching for an entry point into Jaki's work in Can, but his magnum opus might be his robotic pocket on the almost twenty minute beast "Halleluhwah" off Tago Mago. The track grooves so fiercely, the drums can put you into a trance by the three minute mark. Funky, yet tribal, Jaki's performance on this jam in an era where quantization and Beat Detective were not options stands as a monument to his inhuman consistency and creativity. 

Over the next two years, in what might be the greatest creative spurt in avant-rock history, Jaki and his Can-mates put out two more mythically ahead-of-their-time records: Ege Bamyasi (1972) and Future Days (1973). Jaki's drumming on "Spoon" off of Ege Bamyasi and "Bel Air" off of Future Days demonstrate the development of Jaki's drumming as the band progressed, the latter serving as a beautifuly mutated descendant of what Jaki achieved on "Halleluwah". 

 

After Can's first dissolution in 1979, Jaki went on to a series of projects, including the drum ensemble Club Off Chaos and appearances on albums by Depeche Mode and Brian Eno. Can reunited briefly in the late '80s for a final album Rite Time and for some one-offs in the '90s.  In the years since Can's initial run, artists as disparate as David Bowie, Joy Division, and Kanye West have cited them as an influence, covered their tracks, or sampled their music. Jaki's otherworldly on-timeness and experimentation has been an essential part of Can's enduring influence. 

Unfortunately for the world, Jaki passed away last month at the age of 78.  Fortunately in those 78 years, Jaki left behind a body of work that continues to inspire new generations of players. 


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