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Acuna - Hoff - Mathisen: Barxeta

John Kelman By

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With Jungle City (Alessa, 2009), Norwegians Jan Gunnar Hoff (keyboards) and Per Mathisen (bass) documented their meeting with Peruvian-born Alex Acuña, a Weather Report alum who leapt onto the international stage, first as percussionist and then kit drummer, on the fusion super group's Black Market (Columbia, 1976) and Heavy Weather (Columbia, 1977). That, after a first rehearsal in Tromsø—situated in Norway's far north—Acuña jumped out of his seat, screaming "We have to play much more together!" only meant that Jungle City would, most likely, not be a one-shot deal.

It's taken three years, but after touring and releasing the live DVD/CD In Concert (DrumChannel, 2011), the trio is back with Barxeta. If Jungle City deserved any criticism—and even that's debatable—it's that the trio's love of Weather Report was worn a little too large on its sleeve, overshadowing its potential individuality. Not so with Barxeta; while Weather Report's shadow—and, in particular, its founding keyboardist, Joe Zawinul—continues to loom, it's not so large this time around.

The trio's Latin roots were there to be felt on Jungle City, but are more dominant on Barxeta, as are the folkoric roots that are an inescapable component of Hoff's music, and whose own recordings, like Magma (Grappa, 2008), possess stronger melodic tendencies that, rather than contrasting with their more muscular moments, conjoin for a more accessible, less chops-intensive kind of fusion.

That doesn't mean there aren't chops-aplenty on Barxeta, only that they're delivered in the context of equally memorable writing. Hoff's "Belarus" blends a simple, haunting melody with an ascending and descending three-chord pattern before opening up into a pedal tone, driven frenetically by Acuña and Mathisen without losing its delicacy, leading to a piano solo redolent of keyboardist Lyle Mays' best work with Pat Metheny.

Contrasting Hoff, Mathisen—a member of trombonist Helge Sunde's Ensemble Denada and the more avant NYNDK—contributes Barxeta's more intense and groove-driven writing. Had he come out of the US, Mathisen would no doubt be more well-known (the same goes for Hoff); unlike many bassists for whom electric or acoustic bass is their primary axe, Mathisen is equally talented on both. His lithe support on the up-tempo Cuban bent of "Havana Drive" is matched and raised by a fretless electric solo that leaves previous shades of Jaco Pastorius behind, speaking completely with his own voice, while his upright playing is just as distinct on Hoff's expansive "Embrace."

Acuña rarely gets this kind of freedom and he makes the most of it, driving Mathisen's groove-centric "Grande Castelar" with muscular aplomb, propelling Hoff's ethereal title track with a combination of cajón and other hand drums, and delivering a percussion tour de force on his own "Latineado."

Mathisen's processed voice makes the aptly titled "Abogat Funk" a curiosity, but one that's difficult to forget, as Hoff's solos with synth hints of Jan Hammer, while the trio ends on a fiery note on the bassist's "La Sangria del Sr. Mazano." For those believing that Norwegian artists are all about glacial cool and rubato tone poems, Barxeta demonstrates there's plenty of fire in the far, far north.

Track Listing: Belarus, Grande Castelar; Embrace; Latineado; Barxeta; Tu Amor; Havana Drive; Indochina; Winds of Faith; Abogat Funk; La Sangria del Sr. Manzano.

Personnel: Alex Acuña: drums, percussion, vocal (4); Jan Gunnar Hoff: grand piano, keyboards; Per Mathisen: electric and acoustic upright bass; vocal (10).

Title: Barxeta | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Losen Records


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