by Ian Mann
March 24, 2021
Music that is lush and mysterious, but still inherently groovy. An extraordinarily rich sound for a three piece group.
“Arrival Of The New Elders”
(Rune Grammofon RCD2218)
Stale Storlokken – Rhodes piano, Hammond organ, grand piano, Eminent 310, continuum
Nikolai Haengsle – electric bass, electric and acoustic guitars
Torstein Lofthus – drums, percussion
“Arrival Of The New Elders” is the tenth album release from the Norwegian prog jazz power trio Elephant9. It follows a trio of live recordings, “Psychedelic Backfire I, II, and III” and sees the group adopting a more considered approach, with a greater emphasis on the sound of the Rhodes piano rather than the Hammond organ
Elephant9 was formed in Oslo in 2006 and made their recorded début in 2008 with the highly acclaimed “Dodovoodoo”, which appeared on Rune Grammofon, as have all their subsequent releases. Each album has featured the distinctive imagery of artist and electronic musician Kim Hiorthoy.
Their second studio album, “Walk The Nile” received a highly favourable review from former Jazzmann contributor Tim Owen back in 2010, as can be seen here;
Subsequent recordings include “Live at the BBC” (2011) and the studio sets “Atlantis” (2012), “Silver Mountain” (2015) and “Greatest Show On Earth” (2015). Haengsle is primarily a bassist and the “Atlantis” and “Silver Mountain” recordings saw the core trio augmented by the Swedish guitarist Reine Fiske.
Strongly influenced by both jazz and rock Elephant9 have developed a crossover following with prog rock fans particularly appreciative of a band that name Emerson, Lake & Palmer (aka ELP) as one of their primary influences. I was never a fan of ELP’s excesses but I’m prepared to forgive the Elephants’ for their admiration for the dinosaurs.
From a jazz perspective Elephant9 have previously espoused something of a jam band aesthetic, a la Medeski, Martin & Wood, and have also tipped a hat in the direction of the Acid Jazz movement.
Tim Owen also enjoyed a live performance by Elephant9 at the London rock venue The Borderline, where they shared the bill with the Norwegian ‘psych metal’ group Motorpsycho, a band with which Storlokken has frequently collaborated.
The busy Storlokken is concurrently a member of Supersilent, alongside Arve Henriksen and Helge Sten (aka Deathprod). He has also collaborated with drummer Thomas Stronen in the electro-improvising duo Humcrush and with its quartet offshoot Reflections in Cosmo. The latter features saxophonist Kjetil Moster, leader of his own group Moster!, in which Storlokken also plays. Storlokken has also worked with guitarist Terje Rypdal, a member of the first generation of Norwegian jazz musicians to gain international recognition
Meanwhile Haengsle is also a member of the rock bands Bigbang and Band Of Gold, the Norwegian jazz ‘supergroup’ Needlepoint, and has worked with the Horntveth brothers, of Jaga Jazzist fame, in the band The National Bank.
Lofthus has collaborated with the guitarist Hedvig Mollestad and has also functioned as an associate member with a number of jazz, rock, pop and soul groups.
The majority of the pieces on the new album were written by the prolific Storlokken, with just one composition, the excellent “Rites Of Accession”, coming from the pen of Haengsle.
In addition to the ELP influence Storlokken has also taken inspiration from the music of the late, great Joe Zawinul, and particularly his work with Weather Report. Zawinul was a pioneer of the use of electric keyboards, and particularly synthesisers, in a jazz context, deploying them in a quasi-orchestral manner that still exerts an influence on contemporary musicians such as Storlokken.
Zawinul’s influence can be heard in Storlokken’s skilful mastery of a range of keyboard sounds on the album’s title track, which opens this new recording. The title “Arrival Of The New Elders” seems to hint at the trio’s own acknowledgement of their growing musical maturity, a quality that finds expression in Storlokken’s composition. Synths bubble and swirl while washes of Hammond float around a recurring electric piano motif. Haengsle’s supple electric bass weaves its way in and out, and he adds a tasteful dash of acoustic guitar too. Lofthus’ drumming is relatively low key, but totally sympathetic to the meditative, mysterious atmosphere of the piece. The main solo comes from Storlokken on electric piano, the classic Rhodes sound fitting neatly into the layered textures and wispy atmospherics, one can almost visualise the dry ice swirling and drifting around the group members as they perform this one live.
Zawinul served his musical apprenticeship with Miles Davis and the influence of electric era Miles looms large on Haengsle’s “Rite Of Accession”. Thanks to his role as its principal composer and dominant instrumentalist it’s tempting to think of Storlokken as being the leader of Elephant9, although I’m sure the trio’s members would probably tell you that it’s a thoroughly collaborative exercise with a strong group identity. In any event Haengsle’s piece is one of the stand out cuts on the record, introduced by the sound of his own electric bass and featuring some dirty, Bitches Brew style Rhodes as the trio up the energy levels in a manner more reminiscent of their previous incarnations. Storlokken solos feverishly on a mixture of Rhodes, Hammond and synth, the composer doubles on bass and guitar and Lofthus is a nimble and energetic presence behind the kit. The more reflective moments serve to offer an effective element of contrast as the trio comprehensively prove that they haven’t lost their way with a groove and are still capable of generating music of great excitement and searing intensity.
The Storlokken composed “Sojourn” calms things down again, an impressionistic episode based around Haengsle’s bass pulse and Storlokken’s wispy Rhodes and synth sounds. Lofthus’ drums are added at a relatively point in a piece that sounds as if it could be the soundtrack for a particularly cool sci-fi movie.
“Tales Of Secrets” finds Storlokken’s keyboards stalking stealthily around Lofthus’ implacable hip hop inspired drum groove. There’s an urban, dystopian feel about the music that gives it a film noir quality. Again it’s a highly atmospheric piece of music, one which sounds as if it could be very successfully deployed as a film soundtrack. Storlokken’s electric piano solo has been favourably compared to the playing of Ray Manzarek on The Doors’ “Riders on The Storm”, which gives some idea as to the ambience this performance transmits to the listener.
“Throughout The Worlds” maintains the mood, atmospheric but edgy, and again highly filmic with the Rhodes still prominent among the rich variety of keyboard sounds.
There’s an increase in energy and intensity on “Chasing The Hidden”, which moves through a series of metric and stylistic changes, while continuing to sound futuristic and dystopian, its darker and more powerful moments exuding a genuine air of menace. At one juncture the group slide into a kind of cerebral funk, the odd meter grooves topped off by Storlokken’s increasingly other-worldly keyboard sounds.
Lofthus’ drums usher in “Chemical Boogie” as the band again revisit their earlier sound with Storlokken erupting on radically treated Hammond, plus a variety of other keyboard sounds, including the use of sampled voices. All this above a relentless, heavily syncopated rhythmic groove.
The album concludes with “Solar Song”, which also features an implacable rhythmic pattern. But here the groove is slowed down, allowing Storlokken to sprinkle his keyboard generated sonic fairy dust over the top, a woozy melange of organ and synth sounds with the Hammond finally coming into its own before eventually mysteriously fading into the ether.
Although I’d heard Storlokken in various contexts before I’ll admit to not being overly familiar with Elephant9’s back catalogue, my knowledge of the band having been acquired in a somewhat second hand manner from Tim. Nevertheless I was extremely impressed with this latest album, which transcends the limits of the ‘jam band’ or the ‘organ trio’ to create music that is lush and mysterious, but still inherently groovy.
With Storlokken at the helm each track represents a voyage of discovery in itself, like a short story that is complete within itself but which still fits perfectly into the anthology as a whole. Each piece works perfectly in isolation but is still part of the overall aesthetic of the album.
Storlokken’s skill as a soundscaper and his masterful deployment of his various keyboards gives the music an almost orchestral quality, an extraordinarily rich sound for a three piece group. With the aid of the flexible and intelligent support of Haengsle and Lofthus this sonic architect is able to create sturdy and convincing musical edifices, many of them possessed of a strange and compelling beauty.
Despite the acknowledged influences of Davis, Zawinul, and even ELP, Elephant9 have developed a sound that is very much their own, and one which seems to have taken on an even more distinctive identity here.blog comments powered by Disqus