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Reflections In Cosmo


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Norwegian superquartet Reflections in Cosmo where born when Thomas Strønen and Ståle Storløkken from Humcrush found out they would try something new. After years of free improvisation, the desire came to play in a more structured expression. Nothing is better than joining Kjetil Møster,  the genre acrobat - from Datarock, and Snah from Motorpsycho. The music draws lines from psychedelia and the 70's progrock to newer forms of impromusic with today's technology, the quartet appears as a collective machinery, rather than a companion of soloists. Raw music from four of the leading musicians in the country.

Norsk superkvartett! Reflections in Cosmo vart fødd då Strønen og Storløkken frå Humcrush fann ut dei ville gjera noko nytt. Etter år med fri improvisasjon kom lysten på å spela i eit meir strukturert uttrykk. Ingenting er då betre enn å knytta til seg sjangerakrobat Kjetil Møster – frå Datarock, og Snah frå Motorpsycho. Musikken trekkjer  linjer frå psykedelia og 70-talets prog­rock til nyare former for impromusikk med dagens teknologi, kvartetten framstår som eit kollektivt maskineri, snarare enn eit komp med solistar. Rå musikk frå fire av dei fremste musikarane i landet.

 

KJETIL MØSTER saksofon
THOMAS STRØNEN trommer
HANS MAGNUS «SNAH» RYAN gitar
STÅLE STORLØKKEN tangentar

 

 

Whenever RareNoiseRecords releases something that would make my eye brow go up for the right moment at the right time, I know it is right around the corner. One of the releases this year is a cross between Free-Jazz, Space Rock, and Avant-Garde music mixed into this gigantic blender, it’s an electronic/experimental mind-boggling journey that has taken me to a higher level. That and Reflections in Cosmo’s sole self-titled debut release this year is for me one of those albums that will take you beyond the outer limits of infinite space and time.

Initiated by Humcrush musicians Thomas Stronen on Drums and Stale Storlokken on Keyboards. They’ve released albums on the Rune Grammofon label from since they launched back in 2004. However they wanted to take their music by expanding the sound into unbelievable results. The album was recorded at Ora Studio in Tronheim, Norway in June of 2014 for three days and mixed at Duper Studio in Bergen, Norway for three days in August of 2015.

It’s for me, one of the most intense releases that I bought and landed right on my kneecap from start to finish. And with Motorpsycho guitarist Hans Magnus “Snah” Ryan and Saxophonist Kjetil Moster, they lend Stronen and Storlokken a helping hand. From the moment you hear ‘Ironhorse’, you can imagine a futuristic film-noir movie inside your head.

 

Reflections in Cosmo is the name given a new group featuring four of Norway’s leading contemporary jazz musicians. The Oslo based quartet was instigated by drummer Thomas Stronen and keyboard player Stale Storlokken who have been operating as an improvising duo for the past fifteen years under the collective name Humcrush, releasing a series of acclaimed albums for the Norwegian label Rune Grammofon in the process.

Stronen is best known to UK audiences as one half of the duo Food alongside British saxophonist Iain Ballamy and as a member of Meadow, the Anglo-Norwegian trio that once featured the late John Taylor on piano. Stronen also leads his own Time Is a Blind Guide group, another Anglo-Norwegian alliance that includes pianist Kit Downes and cellist Lucy Railton. Stronen has also been an important component of the groups led by his compatriot, bassist Mats Eilertsen.

Best known as an inspired organist Storlokken is also associated with the bands Supersilent and elephant9 and has also recorded with one of the ‘first generation’ Norwegian jazz legends, guitarist and composer Terje Rypdal.

The musicians that Stronen and Storlokken chose to join the extended Humcrush line up were their compatriots Kjetil Moster (saxophones) and Hans Magnus ‘Snah’ Ryan (guitar).
Already signed to the London based RareNoise Records, also home to WorldService Project and Led Bib, the saxophonist leads his own hard hitting quartet, simply called Moster, which has included both Storlokken and Ryan, though not simultaneously. Such is the “small inbred world” - Moster’s words – of the Norwegian music scene. Moster has also recorded for RareNoise with the Hungarian power trio Ju. Meanwhile Ryan is probably best known to international audiences as the guitarist and vocalist of the rock/metal group Motorpsycho.

Taking their band name from one of the compositions on their eponymous début album Reflections in Cosmo thus represents something of a Norwegian ‘supergroup’. Their music straddles the boundaries between electric jazz and experimental rock with Last Exit, the international quartet featuring saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, guitarist Sonny Sharrock, bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson acknowledged as a particularly significant influence. Brotzmann is a touchstone for Moster, who plays with a similar intensity. Meanwhile Stronen cites the inspiration of jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders but also the influence of more contemporary music from pop to rock to hip hop. Personally it sometimes reminds me of Elton Dean era Soft Machine albeit less structured, and minus Robert Wyatt’s vocals, obviously.

Recorded at the Ora Studio in Trondheim one suspects that most of the seven pieces featured on the album are derived from group improvisations, the album packaging contains no writing credits. There’s certainly something of a ‘jam band’ feel about it all. But what a ‘jam band’, Reflections in Cosmo are capable of generating a veritable wall of sound as they demonstrate on opener “Cosmosis” where baritone sax, keyboards and guitar coalesce mightily and Stronen attacks his kit with an abandon that will surprise those only familiar with his work from other contexts such as Food or Meadow.

“Ironhorse” emerges from an impressionistic intro to embrace a mighty, rolling, unstoppable riff cum groove that is utterly compulsive. Moster, this time on soprano, and Storlokken on keyboards ride the train, sprinkling textural fairy dust in their wake, shards of melody tempering the intensity of their playing. Ryan then unleashes an excoriating guitar solo as the piece continues to gather steam before eventually hitting the buffers.

There’s little let up in the intensity as a thicket of percussion introduces “Cosmic Hymn” with Stronen’s relentless patter and clatter answered by Moster’s foghorn like sax blasts and Storlokken’s distorted keyboards. The way in which the music fades out suggests that the piece was edited from a longer, improvised performance.

“Balklava” mines similar territory but adds a greater element of electronica and even a hint underlying funkiness courtesy of Storlokken’s Rhodes-like keys. The way in which the music fades out suggests that the piece was edited from a longer, improvised performance.

“Perpetual Immobile” seems to emerge from deep space but acquires a more urgent earthiness as the piece progresses, with jagged odd meter riffs and grooves underpinning Moster’s baritone rasp and Storlokken’s over-driven Hammond sounds.

Moster remains on baritone for the monstrous “Fuzzstew” where his horn is teamed with Ryan’s buzz-saw guitar and Stronen’s kinetic drumming to create a quite glorious racket. There’s a slight reduction of pace mid tune but the doomy, gothic sounds of Storlokken’s keyboards ensure that there’s no real let up in the intensity.

The album closes with the title track or signature tune, call it what you will. Emerging from Stronen’s rolling drum groove and Storlokken’s answering keyboards the piece is a kind of updating of Coltrane’s spiritual jazz for the electronic era with Moster adding some authentically Coltrane/Sanders style sax as Stronen thunders around him and Storlokken and Ryan construct walls of towering, enveloping textures. There’s an epic grandiosity about this track that draws on both the jazz and rock traditions and the sounds of both America and Europe.

As an album “Reflections in Cosmo” represents a thoroughly engaging and often highly exciting listen although I concede that the group’s blending of jazz, rock and improvisation probably won’t appeal to everybody’s ears. Fans of label mates Led Bib and WorldService Project will doubtless get a lot out of it and the album is likely to appeal to adventurous listeners from both the jazz and rock camps.

Yet there’s also the sense that “Reflections in Cosmo” is in some ways rather a predictable record. Moster and Storlokken sound just like aficionados of the Moster Band or elephant9 would expect them to sound and there’s a plethora of music in a similar vein consistently emerging from the highly prolific Norwegian jazz scene. That said I’ve never heard Stronen play quite like this before and Ryan, a highly inventive and distinctive guitarist, represents an exciting new discovery for me.

Given that their sound is rooted in improvisation one suspects that the most exciting way to hear Reflections in Cosmo would be in a live environment, preferably in an intimate setting such as London’s Vortex where a number of these musicians have previously played. EFG London Jazz Festival organisers please take note. Despite my minor reservations about this album, a CD can only offer a snapshot after all, I’d love to see this band live.

With that in mind I’m happy to give the album an additional half star and a recommendation.

 

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Terje Rypdal (artist)

Starting out as a Hank Marvin-influenced rock guitarist with The Vanguards, Rypdal turned towards jazz in 1968 and jo....

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