Personnel: Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen (acoustic guitar, electric bass, percussion); Ståle Storlokken (Fender Rhodes piano, Mellotron, keyboards, mini-Moog synthesizer); Torstein Lofthus (drums, percussion).
Recording information: Kungsten Studio (10/2014).
Silver Mountain is the second collaboration between Norway's electric jazz trio Elephant9 and Swedish guitarist Reine Fiske (Dungen, the Amazing), four years after their initial encounter on 2012's Atlantis. Though he was given billing, Fiske appeared on only two-thirds of that date and was clearly an invited guest. Fine as it was, Atlantis offered pretty much what you'd expect from a keyboard/bass/drum space jazz trio and a psychedelic rock guitarist. Silver Mountain couldn't be more different. Elephant9 have always been an ensemble more than a collective of soloists, but they've never been as structured as they are here; Fiske has been integrated like a fourth member. These are all jams, but they are formal ones. (The shortest of the five tracks is nine and a half minutes; two are over 20.) They have built in dynamics and spaces carved for improvisation. Prog rock is freely indulged with a mutual love of Krautrock, early electric Miles Davis, and labyrinthine, discovery-oriented psychedelia. "Occidentali" opens with a spacy, noir-ish vibe, like a 1960s spy soundtrack. Before long, it makes the first of its shifts into intense, piledriving prog (like something from Hatfield and the North), then changes gears with lilting Mellotron passages and fingerpicked acoustic guitars. Suddenly it erupts into a funky rocked-up groove before hard-angled prog claims the end. The reading of Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" sounds like an opium-induced dream. Sparse, airy electric piano drifts above trancelike percussion and slippery, mellifluous slide guitar. Before long, Nikolai Eilertsen's low, sinister, pulsing bassline enters, and Ståle Storlokken begins unwinding the melody on a Hammond. The bass adds an earthy feel but it's not necessarily comfortable; it's countered by Fiske's well-placed wah-wah guitar and a hypnotic, seductive groove laid down by Torstein Lofthus. Over ten minutes, numerous key and vamp changes and solos occur, but the tune never loses its recognizable center. "Abhartach" is dark, weird, and funky all at the same time. It is like Soft Machine's "Out-Bloody-Rageous" grafted onto King Crimson's "Sailor's Tale" and Davis' "It's About That Time." "Kungsten" starts as if it's in the middle. Lofthus' intense martial drumming doubles up on itself à la Magma's Christian Vander. The swollen organs and Mellotrons, syncopated acoustic guitars, and droning bass up the tension level to the almost unbearable -- think "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Pt. 2." It shape-shifts and changes dynamic halfway through to simmer for a bit before it starts rocking like "Theme from Jack Johnson" -- Fiske's vamping and fills are exquisite. Closer "The Above Ground Sound" is deceptive. It offers elements of psychedelic formlessness, but is rife with specific Spanish guitar motifs and controlled collective jazz improvisation; it's all woven through almost ambient prog. On Silver Mountain with Fiske, Elephant9 transcend their own sound. Openly experimental yet indulgently accessible, it is an all-encompassing, utterly engrossing listening experience. ~ Thom Jurek