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Sunday, August 11, 2019

Elephant9 ‎– Psychedelic Backfire I & II (Rune Grammofon, 2019) ****

By Stef

Over the years, we've followed the evolution of the Norwegian band Elephant9 whose psychedelic jazz is a little different than what we usually present. 

They offer us a real treat this year by presenting two albums, both recorded live, which is great, because they appear to be a wonderful live band. On the first album, the band is a trio, with Ståle Storløkken on keyboards, Nikolai Hængsle on bass and Torstein Lofthus on drums. Storløkken is possibly best known for his work with Supersilent, but als of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. 

This is high energy instrumental music, with the rhythm section in constant motion, the keyboardist hammering away on magnificent chords on his Hammond organ and assorted keyboards (Rhodes, Mini Moog, Mellotron). Despite the quality and the precision of modern day music, the sound is tributary to the rock music of the seventies, mixing sounds of the better/early moments of Deep Purple, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd in their own vernacular that somehow incorporates many of the compositional and tonal complexities of jazz. Whatever the genre, the music is great, infectious, intoxicating, exhilarating. It's the kind of trance-inducing music that could have worked well on the neverending dance parties that I remember from the seventies: the music could go on forever, without breaks and interruptions (apologies from my old man memories). And even if you're not up for dancing, it still is great to just listen to, with sufficient changes, melodies and improvisation to keep the attention going.

Apart from "Skink/Fugl Fønix" (high-speed high-intensity) all the compositions were already performed on earlier albums, but that does not really matter. The trio's take of them in a life setting is sufficiently different to make it interesting. 

On the second album they are joined by guitarist Reine Fiske, who already participated on three other Elephant9 studio albums. They start in a really quiet way, with eery sonic glitters produced by guitar and keyboard, playing their rendition of Stevie Wonder's "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life", starting to be introduced by the special sound of the Mellotron, with gradual rhythmic pulse being added by bass and drums. It is all so obvious and predictable, but that does not really bother. Even if the recipe is known, you still have to cook it, and what they concoct is delicious. Fiske's guitar is a great addition to the overall sound, making it richer in texture, without soloing in the traditional sense, but adding precise notes, sounds, chords and rhythms.

This album also has renditions of "Skink/Fugl Fønix" and of "Habanera Rocket" as on the trio album,  with the former now even madder and more powerful, with rollercoaster speed and turns that the band takes effortly. That is maybe another delight: even if Storløkken has the lead voice on the album, they act as a quartet, and what Nikolai Hængsle and Torstein Lofthus do is nothing short of amazing. The album ends with another new composition, "Freedom's Children/John Tinnick", and 18-minute romp that has the the kind of weaknesses that become strengths in a live performance, with  a messy sound quality, some imprecisions, a slower meandering middle piece, but all contributing to increasing the authenticity and the tension, turning the audience esctatic.

Guaranteed to cheer you up! Keep dancing.