Elephant9: Walk the Nile (2010)
After a debut making it to more than one critic's "best of" list for 2008, Elephant9 returns with Walk the Nile. If Dodovoodoo demonstrated this keyboard power trio's affiliation for Tony Williams' late-1960s Lifetime and early Weather Report, mixed with a bit of progressive rock-era Keith Emerson, then Walk the Nile steps a tad further away from its core influences, further evolving Elephant9's definitive voice.
Keyboardist Ståle Storløkken's career has been on an upward trajectory since the mid-1990s and Veslefrekk, the trio that ultimately morphed into Supersilent with the recruitment of Helge Sten. Now a fixture across the breadth of the Norwegian scene, Storløkken continues to collaborate with everyone from fellow Supersilenter Arve Henriksen to iconic Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal's Skyward trio. But Elephant9 is the first group where, despite its egalitarian nature, the keyboardist is in something of a leadership position, with at least one of his stylistic predilections brought into sharp focus. Contrasting Dodovoodoo's combination of originals by Storløkken and bassist Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen with covers by Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul, the focus here is solely on originals, with five by Storløkken and one by Eilertsen.
Dodovoodoo's hard-edged, rock-inflected music with improvisational élan continues on Walk the Nile, an exhilarating combination of Storløkken's weighty keyboards, Eilertsen's thunderous electric bass, and the high octane approach of Shining's drummer, Torsten Lofthus. Storløkken focuses on grittily overdriven Fender Rhodes, equally dense Hammond organ, and a little synth thrown in for added color. Walk the Nile's fiery intensity still references its precedents, especially Lifetime's reckless abandon, but the same "check your egos at the door" aesthetic definitive of a Norwegian scene filled with virtuosic players who instinctively eschew "look at me" bombast makes Elephant9 a strangely selfless experience, with its inherent power coming from interaction and collaboration, rather than turgid self-indulgence.
Middle Eastern inflections may give the title track its name, but Eilertsen and Lofthus' slow, repetitive, backbeat-driven pulse turns it into a visceral 10-minute jam of gradually building intensity, as Storløkken layers spacey synth over dissonantly harmonized organ to create an almost impenetrable sound that feels loud at any volume. "Habanera Rocket" is Walk the Nile's longest track, fading in on faux samba, but with Storløkken's swirling Hammond, Eilertsen's buoyant bass, and Lofthus' tom tom-driven kit, this ain't your granddaddy's samba. It's not even your daddy's samba, as the trio kicks it into high gear half-way through, suddenly coming together for a unison passage that switches keys as the group gradually takes off for the stratospherespacey, but still possessing a maelstrom of an undercurrent.
The shorter tracks possess more definitive form, but even then it's clear that Elephant9 is an improvising band, albeit with a strong pulse and expansive palette. Ending at its fieriest with the bassist's "John Tinnick," Eilertsen and Lofthus move at a fast clip, while Storløkken's overdriven keys suggest how The Nice might have sounded with sharper teeth and less overt classicism. Sophomore releases are often a challenge, but with Walk the Nile, Elephant9 has delivered another powerhouse set sure to hit "best of" lists for 2010.
Track Listing: Fugi Fønix; Aviation; Walk the Nile; Hardcore Orientale; Habanera Rocket; John Tinnick.
Personnel: Ståle Storløkken: Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, synthesizer; Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen: electric bass; Torsten Lofthus: drums.
Record Label: Rune Grammofon