Haakon Graf/Erik Smith/Per Mathisen: Sunrain

Geno Thackara By

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Digging into the staggered groove of "Santa Monica" during an end-of-2014 performance in Oslo's Olsen Bar, Haakon Graf glides along the keys in an easygoing manner to begin building the show's energy. The electric trappings of '70s Jeff Beck come to mind—albeit without the guitar—alongside the sound of classic outfits like Weather Report and Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. His bandmates keep up at a mid-tempo trot. Erik Smith's drumming coasts steadily with plenty of splashes to avoid going anywhere near static. After a few minutes Per Mathisen steps up for a fluid high-speed bass solo that often squeezes twice as many notes into each measure as the others do. It's an appropriate intro to what turns out to be a freewheeling, dynamic set of jazz-rock fusion high on interplay and heavy on funk.

Eight months later, the song's pace has gotten a slight jolt and they're a bit more warmed up since it's the second slot in the set. Graf keeps the same Wurlitzer-like tone for a solo that's noticeably more brisk. It still eases down a bit toward the end, while Mathisen's showcase now incorporates robotic singing through a vocoder and the whole piece comes out a minute and a half shorter than before. No doubt each track evolved through its share of little natural changes over many performances in the intervening months.

Slightly different from the usual CD/DVD package, Sunrain offers these two complementary sets rather than the same one in different formats. The video was made at the 2014/15 New Year's show (note for non-Europeans: the disc isn't all-region) while the audio comes from a performance in Drammen the following August. Several songs overlap between the two, but of course nothing stays quite the same. The order is shuffled, other pieces are added or dropped, the mix is different and naturally each room has its own feel.

The videography takes the point-and-shoot approach with a small handful of angles to switch among (we barely get to watch Graf's hands at work until halfway through, for instance). It's a no-frills approach that gets the job done with workmanlike simplicity; this was probably the best option for filming a stage the size of a garden shed. The editing is well-done in presenting different views of the action without jumping around every 2.4 seconds as far too many live videos seem compelled to. We can easily appreciate the virtuosity and catch the smiles and looks among all three players throughout.

Mathisen naturally comes out the clearest visually, and it's a continual pleasure to watch him at work on fretted bass and electric upright (which interestingly gets the bigger share of funky wah-wah treatments). It's uncertain whether his couple robot-vocal moments are really necessary, but it certainly fits the overall fusion flavor to a T. Smith, meanwhile, is impressively nimble for pieces this energetic and always keeps the pulse alive with flair.

With synth squawks, funky clavinet, dreamy organ and occasional piano-like tones, Graf and his compositions show all the light and shade indicated by the album's title. The trio's finely-honed interplay (3-4 years along at the time these sets were recorded) is just as impressive—their familiarity lets them pull and stretch any given piece as the mood hits, good-naturedly listening and responding to each other like longtime mates bantering at the pub after hours. Each has a lot to share, and their generous back-and-forth makes something beyond the sum of the individual parts.

Track Listing: CD: Fat Freddy´s Cat; Santa Monica; Thrustin´; Herbal Music; Paperflowers; Sunrain; Funkalectual; Good Groove; My Intentions - Zawisong.
DVD: Santa Monica; Herbal Music; Garfield; Thrustin´; Fat Freddy´s Cat; Romjulsdrøm; Funkalectual Sensitivity; Tickle Me; We Ate; My Intentions; Zawisong; In The Pocket.

Personnel: Haakon Graf: keyboards; Erik Smith: drums; Per Mathisen: bass.

Title: Sunrain | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Losen Records


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