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Elephant9: Live at the BBC

John Kelman By

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Despite the re-emergence of vinyl as a once-again acceptable medium, it's still bigger in some countries than others. In Norway, there are now labels that are releasing vinyl-only editions, including the intrepid Rune Grammofon, which introduced its The Last Record Company a couple years back, with limited-run albums including guitarist Stian Westerhus' Galore (2009) and equally experimental vocalist Maja S.K. Ratkje's Cyborgic (2009). Elephant9's Live at the BBC, on Rune's main imprint, is somewhat more modest—lacking TLRC's 16-page art booklets and gatefold, but pressed on white vinyl, and it's still great to see Kim Horthøy's designs on a larger-than-life 12"x12" single sleeve—though with a limited run of only 500 copies, it's still got plenty of cachet, especially since E9 is one of the more exciting electric outfits to come out of Norway in the last half decade.

A collaborative power trio with Supersilent/Humcrush keyboardist Ståle Storløkken, bassist Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen (BigBand, The National Bank) and drummer Torstein Lofthus (Shining, Mathias Eick), Elephant9 burst onto the scene with 2008's Dodovoodoo, mixing the visceral drive of drum legend Tony Williams' influential fusion group Lifetime (featuring organist Larry Young) with progressive rock tinges and trace elements of keyboardist Joe Zawinul—even closing out its debut with two of the Weather Report cofounder's better-known compositions, "Directions" and "Dr. Honoris Causa." If Dodovoodoo was an exceptional debut of harsh sonics and interactive firepower, 2010's Walk the Nile further honed E9's sound, as it moved exclusively to Storløkken's original compositions. So why, then, would Rune Grammofon release a vinyl-only title from a group clearly on an upward trajectory?

Live at the BBC is not so much a primary release for Elephant9 fans; that comes later this year, with its next studio record. Instead, this live recording, originally broadcast on BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3, is more a supplement, capturing the trio in positively nuclear form on two tracks each from Dodovoodoo and Walk the Nile. With Storløkken eschewing synths and working solely with Fender Rhodes and Hammond organ, three of the four live versions clock in at roughly the same length ("Dodovoodoo" the only exception at twice the studio version's running time), so it's not so much a matter of expanding on the originals as it is approaching them with even greater collaborative energy. The opening "I Cover the Mountain Top," with its gritty, ring modulated Rhodes, takes less time to build its hypnotic, backbeat-driven groove, but when the trio kicks things up a notch or ten and Storløkken's equally overdriven Hammond fires up—reminiscent of Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Keith Emerson, but with less "look at me" chops and a greater emphasis on the collective—it's early notice that live, Elephant9 is one fierce, thundering force with which to be reckoned.

Elephant9 rocks with unfettered energy and reckless abandon, despite there being structures to which the trio adheres. When Robert Fripp referred to his King Crimson studio recordings as "love letters" and live shows a "hot date," he could just as easily been describing Elephant9, whose Live at the BBC is the kind of breathtakingly relentless encounter to which many aspire, but few achieve.

Track Listing: I Cover the Mountain Top; Dodovoodoo; Aviation; Habanera Rocket.

Personnel: Ståle Storløkken: Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ; Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen: electric bass; Torstein Lofthus: drums.

Title: Live at the BBC | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Rune Grammofon


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