Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Norwegian Jazz Crew Straddles Free Jazz and Skronk on New Release REFLECTIONS IN COSMO

The fire and fury of '60s free jazz and the tumult of electronic rock-tinged experimental music is on full display on this new powerhouse offering from four cutting edge Oslo-based musicians collectively known as Reflections in Cosmo. With Kjetil Møster on saxes, Hans Magnus Ryan on guitar, Ståle Storløkken on keyboards and Thomas Strønen on drums, these four kindred spirits strike a tumultuous accord on their self-titled debut on RareNoiseRecords, which represents Møster's followup on RareNoise to his edgy avant-jazz collaboration in 2014 with the Hungarian power trio Jü. At times recalling the ferocious intensity of the late '80s free jazz quartet Last Exit (Peter Brötzman, Sonny Sharrock, Bill Laswell, Ronald Shannon Jackson), this potent Norwegian outfit pushes the envelope with Møster's blowtorch intensity on baritone and tenor saxes, Ryan's wailing electric guitar work, Storløkken's crunchy, distortion-laced keyboards and Strønen's thunderous drumming.

"This band was initiated by Thomas and Ståle," explains Møster. "They have been releasing albums on Rune Grammofon under the name Humcrush for 15 years and they wanted to try out an expanded direction, both in terms of band members and references. They asked me and Hans Magnus 'Snah' Ryan from Motorpsycho, actually not being aware of the fact that Hans Magnus just took over for Ståle in my own quartet Møster! Yes, it's a small inbred world, this."
This small world that Møster refers to is the world of genre-crossing musicians operating in the twilight zone between experimental electric jazz, noise rock and psych rock. As Møster says, "Instead of the jazz-rock we had in the 70's and 80's, maybe we now can talk of rock-jazz? Jü would definitely be a part of this fellowship, as would Elephant9 and Møster!" Add Reflections in Cosmo to that list. And whether or not they are following in the footsteps of Last Exit, Møster is quick to point out, "Any comparison to Brötzmann I take as a big compliment! He has definitely been a huge influence on me for big periods of my musical upbringing. Last Exit is sure ringing in the back of my head in this band, even though we have not been discussing explicit references like that. We all bring in our own musical backgrounds and add it to the stew."
Recorded in spacious Øra Studio in in Trondheim, Norway, Reflections in Cosmo reveals some uncanny group-think by these four Norwegian musicians. "I don't like rules in music," says Strønen, "and with the background we all have, from free-music to hip-hop and contemporary music, that's not going to be an issue."
Møster does bring a Brotxzman-like intensity to bear on his bari blowouts like "Fuzzstew," "Cosmosis" and the kinetic "Perpetual Immobile." He switches to soprano sax on the spacious, ambient number "Ironhorse" and blows bold tenor lines on "Cosmic Hymn" and the title track. Ryan unleashes his ferocious guitar chops on the aptly-named "Fuzzstew" and "Balklava." Says Møster of his six-string partner, "Hans Magnus is one of my favorite guitarists of all time. His sense of texture and ability to build tension and raise this hellacious ferocity is quite unique. I think it comes from playing for about 30 years with Motorpsycho, thus rooted in a heavy but detailed rock aesthetic, but still been deeply into a broad variety of improvisational styles.'
Drummer Strønen is featured traversing the kit with power and precision on the crushing title track. Regarding his own drum influences, Strønen points to myriad inspirations. "As a kid I was lucky to play a lot with older and better musicians. The first thing I learned was to listen to the other musicians and react to what they did. I played everything from pop/rock music to free improvised music and got the chance to perform on stage quite early. By the time I turned 18 I started to practice seriously. Since then I've been influenced by lots of jazz music, from Pharaoh Sanders, Miles Davis and John Coltrane to lots of European musicians on ECM Records. For a longer time, I was massively into Japanese classical music, West African Wolof music and American minimalist composers. Drumming-wise, I've picked from the history of jazz, Japanese drum ensembles and classical drummers. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what you dig into as long as you dig. It's a long and thorough process of collecting what's great about what you hear and putting that in the big melting pot, and with a large vocabulary you can put what's needed into the music."
Their combination of refreshing new ideas, uninhibited improvisations and heavy-duty, throbbing intensity places Reflections in Cosmo in rarefied air. "The main key to the four of us, I think, is that we´re open minded and don't have a presumption of how to play," adds Strønen. "I find Snah, Kjetil and Ståle to be daring, curious and generous in the way they play. Our agenda is to put the music in front and not some solo performance. The instruments and way of playing blends well, I think. We all have a lot of energy too, which can make the music powerful."
Indeed, Reflections in Cosmo is one of the more powerful albums you are likely to hear this year.

1. Cosmosis
2. Ironhorse
3. Cosmic Hymn
4. Balklava
5. Perpetuum Immobile
6. Fuzzstew
7. Reflections In Cosmo

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