Mumpbeak’s debut album was a starry affair, with Bill Laswell as mixer and the principal of four bass players squaring up to King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto. But here the group is stripped to a trio: Lorenzo Feliciati on electric bass and new recruit Torstein Lofthus (elephant9, The Shining) on drums behind bandleader/keyboard player Roy Powell – a variation of the classic Hammond trio, in which Powell favours the clavinet, the baroque instrument that Stevie Wonder once made so damn funky on cuts like ‘Superstition’ and ‘Higher Ground’.
Powell says that on Tooth he wanted to “max the guitar aspect” of the instrument, which has a magnetic pickup on the soundboard to amplify the vibrations of steel blade-struck brass or iron strings, so he ran his “stock Hohner E7 clavinet into a series of guitar effects pedals going into a Fender valve amp,” and added Hammond B3 organ and Moog Little Phatty for “a little variation in colour”.
Maybe it’s because Powell is British, with the influence of King Crimson and other UK progressive music bred in the bone, but although he’s been Oslo-based since the turn of the millennium there’s an earthiness to Mumpbeak that sets them slightly apart from their Nordic nu prog peers.
His music has been compared to that of Crimson, ELP, and (inevitably) electric Miles Davis, and the truth is somewhere in the middle of that, favouring Miles’s dive into the drive of electrifying funk. Powell modestly says his group play: “loose, off-the-cuff stuff over some semi-composed material,” but that belies both the intricacy and the intensity of these cuts.
Laswell and previous guest bassist Tony Levin aren’t missed, as Feliciati plays outstanding lead on cuts like ‘Brick’, where Powell constructs a maze-like melodic framework for later elaboration. He also does a straightforward job of ballasting Lofthus’s pile-driver intro to the nasty groove of ‘Saw’, on which Powell moves from grimy, distorted riffing to driving jazz funk. Hints here of Hendrix in psychedelic pop mode.
Powell keeps his clavinet clean on the mantric, mesmeric ‘Slip’, glossing its steady pulse and layered keyboards with an occasional lap-steel-like shimmer, and again on ‘Cot’, where Lofthus plays with Crimsonesque muscularity and abandon amid a freestyle slew of keyboard arpeggiation.
The etherial, abstract intro to ‘Caboose’ introduces a serenity that’s briefly evocative of David Sylvian’s ambient work with Robert Fripp, but darkens before of a radical switch uptempo. Feliciati plays stepwise bass and Mastelotto gets power-jazzy behind lead keys that resonate with the guitar effects of Bill Frisell, but the trio’s melodic extemporisation is blown apart by an explosive drum break.
The whole thing culminates in the initially loose but increasingly locomotive and cumulatively intense bitches’ brew of ‘Stone’, a group jam founded on a wah-wah groove clearly indebted to Miles Davis, but also enfolding staccato breaks of taut stop-start fusion, frenetic Hammond soloing, and tightly orchestral way-mark climaxes. It’s all wrapped up in under seven minutes, and the whole package is just as lean, its variety tightly focused. No excess.
Buy Tooth direct from Rare Noise.