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Music Review: Elephant9 with Reine Fiske – Atlantis

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In the five years they have been together, Elephant9 has brought back a form of music which has long been dormant. I am talking about fusion, as played by cats like Miles Davis, Tony Williams, and John McLaughlin back in the early ’70s. In other words, the real stuff.

Atlantis is the third studio release from Elephant9, a Norwegian trio featuring Ståle Storløkken (keyboard), Nikolai Eilertsen (bass), and Torstein Lofthus (drums). Swedish prog guitarist Reine Fiske has joined them in a one-off capacity for the album, and adds an amazing dynamic to what was already an extremely powerful musical vision.

The disc opens with the appropriately titled “Black Hole.” The track is a nine-minute monster, with all four playing as if their very lives depended on it. I hate to refer to other albums when describing something, but in the case of Elephant9, I think it would be useful to mention a few, just as reference points. In regards to “Black Hole,” there is an album that by all rights should be as famous as Bitches Brew or The Inner Mounting Flame called Spectrum, by Billy Cobham.

Spectrum is one of the most intense recordings I have ever heard. Cobham is gifted beyond words as a drummer, but a key ingredient of Spectrum is the brilliant guitar playing of Tommy Bolin. Fiske brings a similar energy to this collaboration. It is not as if the trio needed him for inspiration, but what the four of them achieve together is unbelievably powerful.

On a disc which is filled with highlights, it may be the title track that is the finest. Once again, the guitar of Fiske provides an incredible counterpoint to the trio’s music. On the 13-minute extravaganza “Atlantis,” everyone gets plenty of moments to shine. In this case, the band stretches out a bit from the manic energy and explores other stylistic areas. There are passages that bring to mind the melodic mastery of a guitar player such as Steve Hillage, for example. The keyboards of Storløkken are also chameleonic. One notable instance of this comes in “Atlantis,” where I was reminded of Joe Zawinul’s playing on Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way.

Others have mentioned Deep Purple as a band that Elephant9 could be compared to. As far as the music contained on Atlantis, this citation should be taken with a grain of salt. I believe I understand where this comes from though, as there are times when the “lead keyboard” does recall some of the late Jon Lord’s finer moments.

I like the structure of this album very much. There is a great deal of energy to be sure, but the band also has the good sense to hold back at one point. This comes at the midpoint, with track four, “A Foot in Both.” Fiske’s acoustic guitar opens this six-minute tune, and the whole band takes the energy level down a notch. That is not to say that this is a “lesser” piece by any means however, for the music they make here is as magic as anything else on the disc.

In discussions of Elephant9, the word “psychedelic” is often used, and I hear this quality to best effect during the closing “Freedom’s Children.” The drums of Lofthus are a force to reckoned with throughout, but they really drive “Freedom’s Children.” At 13 and a half minutes, this is as strong a way to finish the set as any I could think of.

Call them fusion, prog, psychedelic, or whatever. None of these tags do justice to what Elephant9 are all about. They create music that is as adventurous and powerful as any I have ever heard, and Atlantis is proof positive that they have only just begun.

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About Greg Barbrick