As Universal Harmonies & Frequencies, Hieroglyphic Being and Jerzy Maczyn´ski have delivered a soul-enriching electro-jazz record – a celestial fusion of synth, sax and mystical futurism

“I’m a moody bitch,” says Jamal Moss, aka Hieroglyphic Being. “You’ve got to catch me at the right time of the season.”

The “season” outside is textbook autumn as the rain lashes down in Bristol, but the renowned Chicago artist is thinking back to the summer, when he was paired with Polish saxophonist Jerzy Ma˛czyn´ski for a week of improvised studio sessions which have led to their new album, ‘Tune IN’. 

“They caught me at the right time of the season,” continues Moss. “If they hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have done it.” 

Fresh off the train for the first of two live dates in the UK, Ma˛czyn´ski and Moss appear somewhat thrown together by their collaboration, which they have named Universal Harmonies & Frequencies. Ma˛czyn´ski, casually attired with a beanie and a relaxed, affable demeanour, is the younger of the two. To him, the whole endeavour seems novel and exciting. 

Moss cuts a more imposing figure, sporting an all-black, subtly cyberpunk look accentuated by fingerless leather gloves, his long dreads hanging down one side of his head. It’s a presence which tracks with his past connection to Chicago’s fabled industrial scene, and his bearing matches. He’s warm and verbose, but equally blunt about his feelings towards any topic that crops up, partly due to the jet lag that creeps up on him throughout the interview. 

“I’m gonna be honest – I’m 52 and numb as fuck to the whole process,” he says about his memories of the sessions that led to ‘Tune IN’. “It’s like putting on socks, wiping your ass with toilet paper or having a good drink – it’s just part of the process. It depends on the mood I’m in, and they got me when I was in a good mood.”

“They were bringing you ginger shots every hour,” laughs Ma˛czyn´ski. 

“I was in Mariah Carey mode minus the blue M&Ms,” quips Moss. 

The sessions in question took place in June last year in a small studio in Volkshotel, Amsterdam. The idea had been sparked by Pieter Jansen, a Dutch promoter who’d released Ma˛czyn´ski’s previous project on his Yeyeh label in 2021. That album, ‘Sariani’, found Ma˛czyn´ski working closely with his friend and fellow Polish jazz explorer Wacław Zimpel, indulging in the time and space afforded by the lockdown in Warsaw to expand his electronic music practice in line with his accomplished sax playing. 

“I knew you before this, for sure,” says Ma˛czyn´ski as he looks to Moss. “But I was a little bit surprised when Pieter came up with this whole idea. Before entering the studio, I didn’t know what to expect, but then I realised that Jamal is like a jazz machine – a true improviser.”

“These older jazz musicians I used to hang out with in the 90s said I was an idiot savant, because they went through all this training, but I never did,” says Moss. “I still don’t know chords or anything. I just go by feeling or intuition.”

The sessions at Volkshotel ran for eight hours a day for five days straight, resulting in a wealth of material. Moss was keen to keep up the momentum and not stagnate on one idea for too long, so he would sketch out parts and arrangements and present them to Ma˛czyn´ski and attendant engineer Rein De Sauvage Nolting before jamming them out. 

Ma˛czyn´ski admits his own focus was on raw sax playing and on catching the right melodies and rhythms in response to the ideas Moss was throwing up from his set-up of two iPads and a mixer. In the months following the sessions, Ma˛czyn´ski recorded overdubs and contra points with De Sauvage Nolting to extend his sax parts, and Moss returned to the studio as the album was moulded into shape from the component elements. 

Tune IN’ is certainly a grandiose record that produces a whole range of mountainous peaks across 12 cuts. The opening title track alone glides from cascading sprites of sax and synth into an unexpected jerk of drum machine-driven, hi-tech jazz. The staggered beats are characteristic of Moss’ storied role as a box-jamming provocateur for nearly 30 years, but they don’t dominate the album. Instead, there’s a greater focus on melodies and atmospherics, the electronics in dialogue with Ma˛czyn´ski’s sax rather than fighting with it. 

Don’t be misled, though – Moss’ renegade spirit still defines the album and there’s plenty of abrasion and dissonance, which was at times a learning curve for Ma˛czyn´ski.

“I was not happy with ‘Searching 4 Spirituality Without Religion’,” he admits, referring to the pumped-up penultimate track, which locks into a dramatic call-and-response formation between wild synth flashes and sax flurries. “I was not into this concept, this melody, in the studio, but Jamal pushed it, and I spent two weeks after that trying to figure out how to create some layers. And now we are talking about this track, which is fucking insane. You were right [laughs].” 

On the likes of ‘The Fifth Science’, there’s barely a beat. Instead, the movement comes from motorik pulses of melodic parts, yet the music is as vivid and kinetic as anything Moss has done in the past. In collaboration with others, he has learned to temper his penchant for abrasive percussion, sometimes due to necessity. In 2015, he performed in Belgium with Sun Ra Arkestra alumni and celebrated sax players Marshall Allen and the late Danny Ray Thompson.

“I had to learn to dial the drums back with wind players,” says Moss. “I can’t always do what I normally do – I gotta find a compromise. I was watching Marshall and Danny when I played with them. I was doing drum-focused stuff, and even though I’d still be in float mode, they’re already winded out and I feel bad. These older cats sitting here trying to keep up with my drum patterns and stuff, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m an asshole’. So I just said, ‘Next time, I need to bring more melodic, airy stuff into it instead of the hard drums’.“

While Moss doesn’t need to tread so carefully around younger players like Ma˛czyn´ski or past associate Shabaka Hutchings, the compromise in the collaborative process allows his strength in melodic sequencing and synth-shaping to shine through. Beyond the album, this is also evident when the pair take their project on the road. 

Tonight’s sold-out show at Strange Brew in Bristol is the second time they’ve performed live together, having made their public debut as UHF at Dekmantel Festival in Amsterdam last August. Given the improvised spirit in which ‘Tune IN’ was made, it would be strange to hear a note-for-note recreation of the album, which leaves the prospect of a live performance that’s tantalisingly unpredictable. 

“We were just improving it,” says Moss about their Dekmantel show. “Because we started out doing improv, when we do shows it could get stagnant if we kept playing the same type of way.”

“When we made the album, we made the sound, or the approach,” adds Ma˛czyn´ski. “Jamal has some stems from the record, and I have the preset sounds I created to process my saxophone, so now we improvise together and it keeps the vibe of the record, somehow.”

“If you say so,” chuckles Moss. “Let’s see what happens tonight.”

Later that evening, Moss is sitting onstage arranging a few elements on his iPads before they get started, presumably so he and Ma˛czyn´ski have a jumping-off point for the performance. He introduces them on the mic, talks up the album and explains that the show won’t be entirely representative, rather a hint at what ‘Tune IN’ sounds like. Sure enough, the 50-minute set – a swirl of melodious ambience – feels like a perfect precursor to the record’s wild peaks and energetic pops of musicality. Cast in muted lighting and dry ice, it’s a sultry performance in which Ma˛czyn´ski’s sax provides much of the movement – sampling, looping and subtly processing his playing but never overwhelming Moss’ ambience. 

“I like these tools,” says Ma˛czyn´ski. “I like that I can be on the stage with my computer and a bunch of effects, and really express myself. It’s amazing for me.” 

While Ma˛czyn´ski spends a lot of time playing in bigger jazz ensembles, the appeal of electronic autonomy is evident in a collaboration like this, where there’s space for his instrumentation to be taken in more innovative directions, and Moss certainly leaves plenty of room for that. Echoing his previous sentiments about backing off on percussion in these kinds of collaborations, it’s only in the very last stretches of the performance that we hear a kick drum sneak into the mix, one described by my friend as “the saddest kick I’ve ever heard”.

Melancholic though the performance might be, it’s also very beautiful and uplifting. In the past, Moss’ instinct for experimentation, informed by his love of industrial music and an idiosyncratic creative vision, has on occasion led to confrontational outcomes. When we touch on Singeli and the frenetic dance music coming out of East Africa in recent years, he tells me about an incident that occurred when he was playing in Berlin in the mid-2000s for the fabled Frankfurt minimal label Playhouse. 

“My friend sent me some of this sound coming out of Africa everybody’s geeking on,” he says. “It’s real fast and it’s got this weird, off-kilter rhythm. I was making stuff like that around 2008, 2009 – even before that. 

“I got banned from Berghain for playing that sound in 2004. I had no clue it was a label night for Playhouse, and I’m there just banging it out hardcore for an hour-and-a-half. I had 200 people in front of me as high as a kite, loving it. Everybody else was sitting down bulling me. [Label manager] Ata walked past and he didn’t even speak to me. The manager said, ‘Yeah, that was interesting. We’ll call you’.”

It’s likely that Moss’ firebrand drum frenzies would meet a more receptive audience 20 years later, but the goal of UHF is less oppositional. As the project name implies, there’s a more spiritual impetus behind the music which extends to the track titles. It’s not surprising to learn that these were chosen by Moss – the likes of ‘Can U Hear The Hum’ and ‘The End Of Ur World’ have a styling which is consistent with his past projects, but they’re not actually his own words. Instead, Moss looked to the titles of inspiring books he’s read, which he’s now deployed as tasters for inquisitive listeners of the album to explore. 

“I read a lot of books,” he admits. “I just felt like, at a certain point in your life, you’ve got to put stuff out there that’s going to help the world. I can have somebody listen to music that I create, on my own or with someone else, and then when they see the titles they might be curious, like, ‘What are the titles about?’. Then when they find out it’s a book, they can get it and ‘tune in’. That’s the best way I can put it.”

Much like the debate over ‘Searching 4 Spirituality Without Religion’ being included, Jerzy Ma˛czyn´ski seems content to let Jamal Moss lead on matters of “framing” the project. ‘Tune IN’ certainly feels consistent with Moss’ wider body of work, however reciprocal the partnership may be. As Ma˛czyn´ski tells me after their performance, he very much cherishes their surprise encounter.

“Meeting Jamal was very inspiring,” he confirms. “I learned a lot.”

For Moss, his tendency to play down the project is balanced by the sheer feeling of the music he puts into it. For someone with a long, winding and wholly singular path through life and art, a little jaded quip here or there is understandable, but he’s also just being realistic about his work. 

“When I’m talking, I’m either full of shit or just guessing, because I don’t know,” he says when I ask about how he thinks the album will be received. “When it comes out, we might win an award. It might get synced to a lot of films or compilations – I have no idea. It depends who it reaches, and how and when. I’ll be at home with Uber Eats, watching cable television until the time comes for me to respond to whatever happens with this.” 

‘Tune IN’ is out on Yeyeh

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