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Concert Review/ Elephant9

img  Tobias

For most of my youth, my father's stories about a time when people would dance to Jazz in the clubs seemed just that: Stories. Well-told and creative, without doubt, but all the same too good to be true. Tonight's gig by Elephant9, however, could almost make you believe them. The trio have traveled to Germany on the wings of rumours of stardom and superlative press reviews, showering the band with terms like „shockingly great“, „fabulous, freaky-deaky Scandi-jazz“ and laudatios about „filthy dirty overdriven Hammonds“. On paper, Faroean sorceress Eivør Pálsdóttir may have been the more attractive proposition, but the audience of the Moers Festival clearly has its own thoughts about this: Every square inch in the arena has been taken and with even the aisles gradually clogging up with those unlucky enough to find a seat, my neighbour keeps getting up to request those barring his sight to kindly step aside and find a different spot to stand.

It's may seem an obvious desire, but in fact, the visual action taking place in  front is actually the least interesting part of the concert. Supersilent-keyboarder Ståle Storløkken conceptualised Elephant9 as a practical exercise in deepening his insights into the electric phase of Miles Davis and with technical demands and a tightly choreographed group performance taking center stage, there is hardly any time for spectacular moves and puberal posing. The rhythmical complexity of the music is demanding the musicians' full attention instead, with Storløkken only occasionally jumping off and onto his seat or pirouetting round to a small effect box at his back to quickly change the settings of his organ battery. Bassist Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen is counterpointing his fingersprints with a stoical, almost meditative performance. Sat at the centre of the ensemble, Drummer Torstein Lofthus, too, is far too concentrated and focused to even look at the audience. Like the puppet percussionist from Sesame Street, he is almost dancing to the waves of the groove on his seat, without, however, loosing his cool and composure.

Elephant9, it seems, then, are all about control. Even though all four pieces tonight lean towards and beyond the ten minute mark, their improvisations are always magnetically precise and to the point. The typical Jazz-structure of introducing a motive and then indulging in a rite of variations may have been replaced with a more loose concept of constantly evolving thematic patterns. And yet, the group never strays too far from home and likes to return to a particular melody or harmonic progression in the middle of a track and to come full circle at the end with an unexpected reprise of the opening section. This prevents the pieces from sounding like mere outtakes from jam sessions or extended instrumental parts from progressive rock songs. It is an approach which works astoundingly well despite the occasional sensation of things getting a tad monochromatic and allows psychedelic effects to blossom: Combining their musical zest with a poignant and pumping sound and an intense light show, the trio plays itself and its audience to the point of ecstasy.

Thankfully, it does so without the usual barrage of seemingly infinite solos. Quite on the contrary, Storløkken's cues are rather like staccatos of energy, like short miniature eruptions spilling out musical lava onto his friends' plates. On other occasions, he seems to all but lean into his instruments, tearing raw groans from their intestines and creating rippling sheets of sound. Even though Elephant9 are often billed as „his“ band, he never aggressively takes the lead. Instead, Eilertsen's pulse is frequently more prominent than the Hammond-harmonies and thanks to his powerful and smartly evolving lines,  it is Eilertsen who emerges as the secret leader of the formation. More often than not, the Bass is driving pieces towards their climax and then gently steers them back to the haven of a safe resolution. Continuously keeping eye contact with the other members, he follows their actions attentively in one moment only to discreetly re-work the switches in the next.

Far from being a „Bitches Brew“-derrivative, Elephant9 have found a formula which is as entertaining as it is demanding. Their debut album “Dodovoodoo” may have had the more contagious hooks, but tonight's performance certainly is more red-shoe-compatible. All around us, hips are shaking, feet moving and hands waving and from somewhere in the back of us, a man in a bright orange jacket is slowly dancing his way towards the stage, turning round his axis at times with his arms upraised before continuing his journey. At one point, we see him cheering on his heroes right in front of their eyes, before mysteriously returning back to the place he so suddenly came from. In the middle of this already fired-up audience, he doesn't seem out of place one bit, but as a visitor to an average contemporary Jazz-club, he might as well be a creature from another time. I have to look twice to make sure it is not my father.

 By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Elephant9
Homepage: Moers Festival
Homepage: Rune Grammofon

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