Elephant9's Revival of '70s Prog Will Blow Your Mind

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Elephant9

Walk the Nile (Rune Grammofon)

By the raveled cuff of Keith Emerson’s silk dressing gown, it’s the return of the prog organ trio. Sort of, anyway. See, when not making electro-acoustic improv in Norwegian group Supersilent, keyboardist Ståle Storløkken moonlights in Elephant9, firing up full-throated Hammond B-3 roar alongside bassist Nikolai Eilertsen and drummer Torstein Lofthus. The vinegary overdriven tone of Storløkken’s instrument alone is likely to summon up visions of sweaty kaftans flapping in a Leslie speaker cabinet breeze at some lost Jon Lord solo session for listeners of a certain vintage. (Or perhaps the Tony Williams Lifetime tribute that never was, for others.) But this sort of thing is so retro that it feels brand-new, and Storløkken and company’s aggressive attack and laser-guided groove blow the dust off of everything in sight.

Like Supersilent, Elephant9 navigates down the cracks between jazz, rock, and a handful of other genres on Walk the Nile, its second LP. What pass for hooks here tend to be scarce and subtle (e.g. the descending bass line on the expansive, slow-burn title track), but the album’s six cuts never lack for melodic shapes, and Eilertsen and Lofthus’ febrile hustle on the opening “Fugl Fønix” and “Hardcore Orientale” drive the music past any potential slack-jawed moments. The sound of Storløkken’s organ is its own sort of reward, really—a pungent whole-grain mustard in a world of weak-sauce yellow dribble. Certain tunes bear the loosely organized hallmarks of their jammy origins, but the measured mile-eating stride and shimmering alien sonics of “Walk the Nile” and the polar-opposite pummeling rave-up of closer “John Tinnick” show compositional craft at work. It’d be interesting to slap this down at Camp Bisco and see what kind of minds it’d blow, and how high.

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