On their followup to their formidable self-titled debut on RareNoiseRecords in 2013, Mumpbeak again conjures up memories of vintage King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Gentle Giant and other prog-rock pioneers on Tooth. Led by the innovative keyboardist-composer and Oslo-based UK expatriate Roy Powell, whose other RareNoise output includes releases by Interstatic and Naked Truth, and featuring bassist and longtime collaborator Lorenzo Feliciati (Powell's bandmate in Naked Truth who has also released the solo albums Frequent Flyer and KOI on RareNoise), this new edition of the prog-rock-jazz power trio showcases the remarkable Norwegian drummer Torstein Lofthus, who is also a member of the avant garde group Shining and the psychedelic prog-rock-jazz trio Elephant 9.
Together this like-minded triumvirate travels from slamming, intricately executed vehicles like "Boot," "Cot" and "Brick" to more atmospheric soundscapes like "Slip" and "Caboose" to the explosive free jazz jam on "Stone." Says the leader of the group's blend of discipline and highly interactive playing on display throughout Tooth: "It´s just a case of having three like-minded musicians in the studio playing loose, off-the-cuff stuff over some semi-composed material."
As he did on Mumpbeak, Powell again explores the sounds of his heavily-effected, guitar-sounding clavinet throughout Tooth. "I play a stock Hohner E7 clavinet into a series of guitar effects pedals going into a Fender valve amp," explains the keyboardist, whose debut as a leader was 1994's A Big Sky.
"Over the years I have become less interested in stock electric piano or Hammond organ or acoustic piano sounds. So one day when I was playing my clav at home I thought I would max the guitar aspect of the instrument and see where it would take me."
Those ambitious experiments led to Mumpbeak and now Tooth, which prominently features Powell's souped-up clavinet while also utilizing a few of his other trusty keyboards in the mix. "The use of Hammond organ and Moog synth are just to add a little variation in color," he explains.
Powell's signature clavinet sound is in full effect on the odd-metered opener "Boot," which introduces the powerhouse drumming of Lofthus, whose muscular, whirlwind approach to the kit sets the pace on this intricate, stop-time vehicle. "Brick" brings an element of swing into the Zappaesque proceedings while the thunderous "Saw," fueled by Lofthus' power-precision playing, has Powell dialing up some nasty distortion, wah-wah and whammy bar articulations on his clav.
The keyboardist takes a more gentle approach with a clean clavinet sound on the more serene "Slip," which serves as a kind of palette cleanser after the tumultuous grunge jam of "Saw." "Cot," with its interlocking arpeggios and muscular drumming underneath, is very Crimsonesque in its finely-executed latticework patterns. "Caboose" opens with a full four minutes of ambient washes and soundscapes executed by Powell and Feliciati, both generating mesmerizing loops, before segueing to a swinging section paced by Felicity's insistent walking baselines and Lofthus' loose swing factor on the kit. This nine-minute suite features Lofthus' most explosive solo of the session.
Tooth concludes with the wah-wah fueled jam "Stone," a provocative piece clearly influenced by Miles Davis' landmark Bitches Brew that builds from a delicate koto-like intro to a funk section to a wild free jazz blowout underscored by Lofthus' rampaging approach to the kit.
Says Powell of his ongoing hookup with Italian bassist Feliciati, "I first met Lorenzo at a Bass Day event in Manchester in 2007. We immediately had a connection both as people and as musicians, being the same age and sharing a common musical heritage and shared references such as Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, and Allan Holdsworth. We kept in touch and started to play together whenever possible. This led to the formation of the Naked Truth quartet with Cuong Vu and Pat Mastelotto. When I realized that I was going to have a European-based working Mumpbeak trio, it was obvious to ask Lorenzo to join."
Powell discovered drummer Lofthus while performing a series of educational concerts in Norwegian schools. "Torstein´s name came up and I jumped at the chance to work with him, having see him with Elephant 9 and Shining. He has great technical skills together with a hard hitting style that defines the music."
"I am aware that I am making a kind of niche music," says Powell of his adventurous approach with Mumpbeak. "It´s handmade artisan crafted music for the educated listener, available on vinyl! You can´t get more niche than that! But it suits me down to the ground because of my predilections. I really like musical material with a relatively high complexity and difficulty level. I think that when you present this kind of music to an audience it can almost be like a magical experience, as long as the complexity is coupled with some aspects of simplicity to balance it. And we have played a lot of concerts together so the difficulty level of some of the material gets a lot easier with repetition."
Watch for this music to develop to another level when Mumpbeak tours Europe this summer. Until then, dig their volatile prog-rock-jazz jams on Tooth, their potent sophomore outing on RareNoiseRecords.