Per Mathisen and Jan Gunnar Hoff understandably look forward to their jaunts to Barxeta, Spain, as much as anyone else might look forward to favorite summer holidays. For them it's really a working vacation: of course the sunny surroundings are beautiful and the home cooking is doubtlessly excellent, but they're also there to play hard and create something exciting as best they can. It works: the second in their ongoing series shows them romping through an energetic fusion set in contagiously high spirits.
Listeners familiar with the first Barxeta (Losen, 2013) will notice the absence of percussionist Alex Acuña and perhaps wonder how the endeavor fares after the change, seeing as it was first sparked by the trio's chemistry as a whole. It's true that all three players had clearly been shaped by Acuña's former outfit, Weather Report. Some of the same key elements (such as worldly rhythms and electric instrument tones) are likewise felt on Barxeta II, and rather than coming across as imitative, they're still being adopted to use as ingredients in this band's own soup.
The duo is backed up this time by Horacio "El Negro" Hernandezany drummer would be proud to earn "The Octopus" as a nickname, and he lives up to it dashing off jumpy grooves in brisk style. His Cuban rhythmic roots make an excellent complement to the omnivorous stylings of the Norwegian players, who are most interested in mixing all different things at will in any case. They don't think twice about dropping club-jazz piano solos into the middle of electric rock grooves, or goosing "Blue in Green" into a hyper-funk workout that Bill Evans never would have imagined.
The title "Urban" might suggest something groovy, but its stretchy synths travel into space to evoke some futuristic sci-fi cityscape instead. "Metrician" breaks out the Wurlitzer funk with rhythmic games and snaky bass/key unison lines to challenge players and listeners alike. The extended centerpiece of the late-'80s hit "Calling You"let's go ahead and forget Celine Dion, pleasehas Mathisen slapping an echo effect on the fretless bass before fast-driving drums and more loopy synth take us stargazing. Those spacy sounds are plentiful throughout, though Hoff stays firmly in fusionland without tipping into outright mind-altering territory. Mathisen's meaty bass is heavy enough to keep everything rooted to the earth anyway, regardless of how floaty any other tones may get.
Amidst the high-energy fusion, the title ballad reminds us they're equally comfortable at the other end of the scale, the shifting solos featuring beautiful fretless and romantic piano in one unexpected highlight. By then any such changes or shifts shouldn't be surprising. This crew is simply happy to take any idea as it comes. If the odd jaunt to Barxeta has to be an infrequent vacation, that only means they've got plenty to share once they finally make it.
Northern; Blue in Green; Urban; Three; Metrician; Calling You; Barxeta II; Tighten Up the Tie; Abogat Funkymania.
Per Mathisen: bass; Jan Gunnar Hoff: piano, keyboards, synth; Horacio Hernandez: drums, percussion.