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Arrival Of The New Elders Sean Kitching , March 10th, 2021 09:08

Norway’s premier prog/jazz/psych trio return with a studio recording that reveals a gentler and more spacious aspect to their sound on most diverse and rewarding album yet, finds Sean Kitching

Since 2008, Oslo’s Elephant9 have released a remarkably consistent series of albums bearing their trademark distillation of 70s fusion sounds, accelerated as if in a particle collider, and imbued with a euphoric, often trance-inducing power. Their album covers too, all the work of the Norwegian electronic musician and graphic designer, Kim Hiorthøy, have reflected this cohesion of purpose, with a succession of colour and shape-based images that wouldn’t look out of place as individual exhibits of an abstract art installation. Comparisons to Magma, King Crimson, Soft Machine, electric Miles Davis, or even elements of Fela Kuti are not unwarranted, but nevertheless fail to capture the density of detail and chaotic power that the trio bring to their updated take on the jazz rock genre.

Following collaborations with Dungen’s Reine Fiske, and two live albums, the trio of drummer Torstein Lofthus, bassist Nikolai Hængsle and keyboard player Ståle Storløkken have opted to dial down their propensity for high velocity detail, aiming instead for a less jam-oriented, more spacious and composed approach. It’s often said that ‘less is more’, and often that statement rings true, but if it were always the case, the musical landscape would be in an impoverished state. Elephant9 are unusual in that they now have a foot confidently placed in both ends of the minimalist-maximalist spectrum. It’s a transition that suits them well.

Opener, ‘Arrival Of the New Elders’, perfectly sets the tone for rest of the album, with bubbling synth oscillations, laidback percussion and a sparse but lovely electric piano phrase recurring throughout. ‘Rite Of Accession’ comes closer to the band’s earlier sound than any other track on the album, harnessing its progression to a strong ecstatic feeling not dissimilar to the joyous emotional expansiveness more often expressed in EDM. ‘Throughout The Worlds’ and ‘Chasing The Hidden’ both aptly evoke the kind of mystery implied in their titles, the latter track switching gear halfway through with some impressive downtempo drumming. ‘Chemical Boogie’ makes good use of syncopated breakbeat style percussion to drive its insistent groove, whilst ‘Solar Song’ establishes a simpler, more expansive mood to bring the album to a close.

This is a more succinct iteration of Elephant9’s sound, yet all the more enjoyable for the contrast it offers to their earlier work. The same architect’s fingerprints are still unmistakably present on this release; only this time around, the Escher-esque baroque constructions of old have been replaced by a series of more expansive dwellings.