What’s up with Norway? After unleashing startling proggy albums from Motorpsycho and Jaga Jazzist earlier this year, they’ve hurled yet another stonking progressive jazz infusion out across the waters, this time from power trio Elephant9. Walk The Nile isn’t twisted anagrammatically around Johnny Cash’s shuffling ‘Walk The Line’; it appears to be a reference to Eastern modal constructs based around the phrygian scale. That doesn’t mean listeners should expect anything as Eastern as Omar Souleyman, or as Western as The Bangles’ ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’; no, Walk The Nile is a funky traverse across the progressive spectrum of jazz rock – a territory explored by the likes of Keith Emerson and Weather Report in the ’70s.
Ståle Storløkken (keyboards) takes the lead throughout with Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen (bass) Torstein Lofthus (drums) providing a thundering rhythm section that is as equally intriguing as any solo Storløkken rinses from his combination of Hammond, Fender Rhodes and Church Organs. Where Keith Emerson opts to murder his Hammond with blades, Storløkken seems to have his keyboards permanently electrified in order to give him a deft, skittering lightness of touch.
Much like debut album Dodovoodoo (2008), Walk The Nile plunges straight into schizophrenic ’60s styled rock leading, as it does, with ‘Fugi Fønix’ where Lofthus’ unremitting drumming takes the form of a brutal three minute solo. It’s a fine example of the band’s intuitive technical ability to not simply masturbate, but to deliver expressive mood music with inventive ferocity.
With only six songs on the album, three clock in at under five minutes while the remaining three aim for the 10 minute mark. The mildly Afrocentric ‘Habanera Rocket’ stops just shy of 15 minutes and is anything but boring. The most exciting moment comes some seven minutes in when the band shift from moderate, introspective shuffle to Lofthus opening out onto the bell of his ride to drive the track with a funk break.
Overall though, the star of the show is Storløkken — particularly when he puts his keyboards through a wah-wah pedal for ‘Hardcore Orientale’ and the relentless ‘John Tinnick’. His tendency to utilise effect pedals does lend something of a Hendrix quality to Walk The Nile and it’s occasionally possible to imagine Hendrix jamming with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles.
Elephant9 have delivered a superb second album — one that should find its way into many best album lists of 2010.