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Album Review

Elephant9 are a Norwegian power trio whose music may look back a bit, but is firmly rooted in the 21st century. Comprised of keyboard player Ståle Storløkken (from vanguard electronic jazz mavens Supersilent), bassist Nikolai Eilertsen (National Bank), and drummer Torstein Lofthus (Shining), Elephant9 have come up with something that simultaneously references Brian Auger's early Oblivion Express, the 1973 Dark Magus/Agharta period of Miles Davis, the more free-form side of Weather Report's Live in Tokyo, and the Deep Purple of "Hush," all with three players and none of them a guitarist. More righteous still is that this trio record from Rune Grammofon, a label that in 2008 has come into its own, has a particular sound, and puts all manner of combinations together in creating a "supergroup" atmosphere. But Elephant9 are totally different. The set was recorded live in the studio, to analog tape. Storløkken stays away from synths for the most part and concentrates on organs (Hammond B-3, church, and Wurlitzer) and Rhodes piano. The grooves here are voluminous, yet they do not remotely sound like the Blue Note/Prestige soul-jazz organ trios of the mid-'60s. Instead, they come from the fringes, from the spaced-out side of electric jazz. They may touch on prog, but that's all; instead, the music is more darkly psychedelic, funky, ruinously loose jazz that pulses with an insistent overdriven energy that puts them in a league of their own.

The tense dark ambience that pervades Rune Grammofon's releases is all but completely absent on Dodovoodoo. There are seven cuts here, ranging in length from two and a half minutes to over 13 minutes, though most fall in the five- to seven-minute range. The shorter pieces are drenched in grooves that allow the listener to hold on and ride in a free and easy head state. The longer ones are explorations into some beyond we haven't seen yet, with top-notch instrumentation and insane intensity. Check "Skink" for some of the most amazing drumming this side of death metal; that said, the organ solo is one-fourth the time signature and the bass blasts through the middle trying to keep time with the drum kit. Storløkken has no choice in his solo but to try to match his bandmembers. The finish is thrilling and breathlessly exciting. Even more compelling are Elephant9's readings of two of the late Joe Zawinul's best-known compositions: "Doctor Honoris Causa," written while he was with Cannonball Adderley's sextet; and "Directions," written for the 1970 edition of the Miles Davis group. "Dr. Honoris Causa" begins quietly — just a cymbal and a bassline, a ghostly piano chord here and there — à la the shimmering drum part of "Shhh/Peaceful" from In a Silent Way. The groove slowly evolves, and Elephant9 rely on their skeletal backbeat for the beginning of improvisation on the melody. The Rhodes allows an analog synth to enter halfway through, Lofthus' drums begin to triple time, and Eilertsen's electric bassline gets restless, while keeping that groove. When Storløkken begins to really solo, the listener notices how high the intensity level really is, and at that point it gets downright funky! "Directions" begins as a free-form improv that gets its wings at two minutes and turns into pure dark funk. For those who choose to encounter it, Dodovoodoo will offer many surprises, all of them timeless and engaging. It is not only one of the best recordings of the year, it may be one of the best in the first decade of the 21st century. Keep an eye out for Elephant9 — they're amazing.


Formed: Oslo, Norway

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Norwegian progressive/neo-psychedelic/jazz-rock trio Elephant9 formed in Oslo around the talents of keyboardist Ståle Storløkken (Supersilent), bass player Nikolai Eilertsen (National Bank), and drummer Torstein Lofthus (Shining). The instrumental group's heady blend of mid-'70s Miles Davis, Deep Purple, and Medeski, Martin & Wood has drawn considerable praise from both the jazz and rock communities worldwide. Elephant9's debut album, Dodovoodoo, was released on the Rune Grammofon label in June 2008,...
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Dodovoodoo, Elephant9
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