Despite its trippy title and psychedelic covert art, Reflections in Cosmo (RareNoise) is actually quite down to earth by contemporary Nordic nu-Prog standards.
The band is an ad-hoc Oslo supergroup with Kjetil Møster on saxophones, Hans Magnus ‘Snah’ Ryan on guitar, Ståle Storløkken on keyboards and Thomas Strønen on drums. No bass: so no anchor, you might think, but the music is firmly grounded by collective heft and an emphasis on deliberative momentum and rich texture, and little or no progtastic excess of widdly frippery among the lines.
The instigators were Storløkken and Strønen, who have a longstanding partnership as Humcrush: Storløkken also leads Elephant9, while Strønen co-leads Food. Møster plays in various bands, including The Core and Zanussi 5, but his own Møster, in which Ryan recently replaced Storløkken, is probably the best known. Ryan, of course, is also a core member of Motorpsycho, in which Storløkken also guests. Fair to say, though the group is new, these guys are tight.
Same goes for the music: seven tracks, none longer than seven minutes.
Møster’s weighty baritone sax blasts ballast “Cosmosis”, concise riffs atop an atypically stolid Strønen rhythm. Ryan pitches his guitar so that it meshes with the light-on-shard metal textures of Storløkken’s keys, refracting an acute slither of melody just before peak mass. It’s all over in four minutes.
“Ironhorse” is brighter at first, a slice of rolling-groove rock re-tooled with hints of both Funkadelic and, yes, the electric Miles Davis. Møster’s shifted to a higher register, Storløkken’s still the mercurial textural wild card, and Ryan gets to unspool a taut-wire solo over a late surge in intensity. Crucially, everything adheres to the riff.
“Cosmic Hymn” rings more change. This is more volatile, like Humcrush music with added brawn (though shades, too, of the electric harmolodic sound of James ‘Blood’ Ulmer’s Music Revelation Ensemble). Strønen detonates deep bass kicks under a fast skitter of stickswork while the others weave busy textures from restless individuation, ever sensitive to group dynamics. “Balklava” continues in the same vein but ups the electronic quotient, with artificial and sampled beats kicking in and Ryan’s guitar radically ghosted by fx. This one’s more out-funky than jazzy or psychedelic.
Slipping into the album’s more spacious second half, the first couple of minutes of “Perpetuum Immobile” deliver a due slowdown, but then the weight of charged intensity returns with insistence. Here the group sound like an electronicized The Thing, with a similar mix of garage intensity and free jazz muscle, only with added processing.
Møster certainly rivals Mats Gustafsson for flamethrower baritone sax riffage on the kicked-up-but-contained rumpus labelled “Fuzzstew”, both before and after its midway slip into brooding Hammond- and guitar-strafed menace.
And that leaves just the title cut, on which Møster finally gets to set some soaring Pharoah Sanders-style melodicism over a purposeful surge toward collective catharsis. There’s still no overspill though: wilder impulses are reined in, so the music holds its thrust and shape. Even the fades work (I usually hate them), because there’s never any sense of cutting short: the group always sounds set to nail a mood, not drag it out to infinity.
It’s firstrate stuff, though I’m not sure there’s anything particularly remarkable about this record, given how much music in a similar vein continues to pour out of the fertile Norwegian nu-prog/post-jazz scene. But it is a very powerful and nicely balanced set, and its concision, focus and variety should make it a real grower.
Kjetil Møster saxophones; Hans Magnus Ryan guitar; Ståle Storløkken keyboards; Thomas Strønen drums.
Buy Reflections in Cosmo direct from RareNoise Records.