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Elephant9: Atlantis

John Kelman By

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Ever a collective, Elephant9's Atlantis represents the Norwegian power trio's most egalitarian outing yet. 2008's Dodovoodoo and 2010's Walk the Nile were, for the most part, dominated compositionally by keyboardist and Supersilent/Humcrush coconspirator Ståle Storløkken. Atlantis is more evenly split between Storløkken's four tracks to bassist Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen's three, but most importantly demonstrates a continued evolution away from Elephant9's early touchstone—American drummer Tony Williams' influential Lifetime—towards ear-shattering, progressive rock-leaning, improv-heavy space rock, a fusion rendered even more nuclear by guitarist Reine Fiske, who guests on two-thirds of Atlantis' hour-long set.

Those who caught the 2012 Kongsberg Jazz Festival's All About Jazz Presents—where Fiske joined Elephant9 onstage for the first time in an absolutely incendiary set that was amongst the most talked-about shows of the series—know what to expect. Better-known in the progressive rock world for his work with Dungen and The Amazing, early Terje Rypdal is an important touchstone for Fiske, though the younger Swede's tone is all his own; similarly gritty and overdriven, but that is where any similarity ends. Team player rather than rock star poser; the soft-spoken guitarist is a perfect fit for the extraordinary members of Elephant9, who are less concerned with specific virtuosity and more about an end result where nobody stands out but everyone shines.

Storløkken's title track is a perfect example; an episodic piece that, at nearly 13-minutes, begins textural and tone poem-like, with Fiske's spare, harmonically overdriven lines hovering and occasionally soaring over Storløkken's grittily atmospheric Hammond organ and Eiltertsen's spartan, change-defining bass, evoking a near-hymnal ambience for nearly five minutes and building slowly, inevitably and, ultimately, climactically to Torstein Lofthus' entry. A powerhouse drummer who thunders on Shining's progressive-metal masterpiece Black Jazz (Indie, 2010), yet demonstrates equal parts nuance and groove-laden drive on trumpeter Mathias Eick's recent Skala (ECM, 2011), here he leans more heavily on the power side of the equation, pushing a relentless pulse telepathically locked in with Eilertsen while Storløkken shifts, first to percussive and overdriven Fender Rhodes and then back to Hammond, as the unfettered Fiske meshes with the keyboardist so seamlessly as to be almost—almost—indistinguishable. Elephant9's jamband aesthetic never sacrifices focus or direction, though, as the trio builds to a second climax, with a third section maintaining the frenzied energy but introducing a series of changes that build, build, and build, further still, to a finale—and then a fade-out—of epic proportions.

It's not all about eardrum-shattering fire, however; Eilertsen switches to layers of 12-string acoustic guitars for his "A Foot in Both," combining with Fiske's nylon-stringed musings and Storløkken's ethereal Hammond for a welcome respite; Lofthus' presence is only felt in its final 30 seconds, as the song fades into Storløkken's solo Hammond intro to the plodding and irrefutably heavy "Psychedelic Backfire."

If Storløkken's continued emergence as a musician of remarkable breadth has also been confirmed on Motorpsycho's The Death Defying Unicorn (Rune Grammofon) in early 2012, then Atlantis positions Eilertsen as incontestable electric bass threat. A retro-futuristic jam fest, Atlantis is a breath of fresh air—even if that air seems tinged with the unmistakable hint of THC.

Track Listing: Black Hole; The Riddler; Atlantis; A Foot in Both; Psychedelic Backfire; A Place in Neither; Freedom's Children.

Personnel: Ståle Storløkken: Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, Minimoog, grand piano; Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen: electric bass, 12-string acoustic guitars (4), percussion (7); Torstein Lofthus: drums, percussion (7); Reine Fiske: electric guitar (3, 5, 7), nylon-string guitar (4).

Title: Atlantis | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Rune Grammofon

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