Commissioned to write the signature work for the 2018 Vossajazz – Norway’s long-running and well respected annual jazzfest, held in the eponymous city – Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen took the opportunity to expand her established trio format to a six-piece, encompassing guitar, drums, percussion, two electric pianos, and a trumpet, to create a powerful jazz rock sextet, heard here in all its glory. The bass is provided by the synths of the two piano players, and this gives the ensemble more of an orchestral feel, bringing an understated subtlety into the mix that maybe a traditional bass guitar would not.
Ekhidna is a half-woman, half-snake from Greek mythology, and by coincidence, or not, the sextet is half-female, half-male. Whether that comparison continues to the male being the snake, we can only ponder! What I can say is that the push and pull of the yin and the yang creates a frisson and tension, encapsulated perfectly in the rollicking charge of Antilone.
The live set was edited down, tightened up, and re-recorded in the studio for this release, but still retains all the vibrant energy of a live performance. The trumpet adds colour throughout, and is a neat addition to Hedvig’s usual soundstage. This is immediately apparent on opener No Friends But the Mountains, the gentlest of scene setters for the main course to follow.
Hedvig Mollestad has carved a unique path with her melding of adventurous metal shapes and free jazz stylings, along with a love of the riff-less-obvious. This creates pulsating electrifying blasts of sound, and this signature is there for all to see on A Stone’s Throw, which after two minutes takes an unexpected diversion into calmer waters where a distinctly Floydian vibe is created. It doesn’t take long before the riff returns, over and around which some interesting percussive fisticuffs occur, and some neat runs on the Fender Rhodes from one or other (or both!) of the ivory tinklers. The riff meantime is being deconstructed with claws out, before it is squirming around on the floor begging for mercy. The whole is one fabulously wonderful mess, that again returns to the main theme for one last round, lead guitar and trumpet in simpatico. Electrifying modern jazz rock at its best! Wish I had seen that Vossajazz gig!
The aforementioned Antilone takes a breather half way in to the accompaniment of some Gimme Shelter-styled percussion, before thundering off along the highway once more. The mid-point of the record is the place to stop and reflect, and Slightly Lighter takes stock, on a slow, bluesy, wistful dream, drifting away. The following tile track opens with a fearsome riff juxtaposed with some elegiac trumpet blowing, the sections going back and forth – push and pull. Is the woman or the snake in charge? Who knows, but it sure is slinky. Percussion and fabulous trumpet blowing call the voodoo down, as we are led into a heavy melting pot of desire, where nothing is fixed, everything floats. Just what the doctor ordered!
After that it is a slow blues for trumpet and piano that ends the album, but one that explodes into life five and a half minutes in, Hedvig’s guitar incandescent, like petrol on waning fire. There was a “post a picture of a guitarist, no explanation” thing doing the rounds on Facebook just before I wrote this. No-one posted Hedvig Mollestad, but they should have, as this woman has as much, if not more talent than any of the usual (and quite a few unusual) suspects posted.
This weird year has seen my writing mojo frequently disappear under waves of immobilising ennui, which is the main reason this review is being typed some two months later than it would normally have been. To be honest, I should have paid more attention to this fine record at the time, as its triumphant zest is just the thing I need to inspire me to hit these keys. I can only hope it piques your interest too!
01. No Friends But The Mountains (1:56)
02. A Stone’s Throw (7:08)
03. Antilone (10:13)
04. Slightly Lighter (3:02)
05. Ekhidna (9:06)
06. One Leaf Left (7:54)
Total Time – 39:20
Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen – Guitar
Susana Santos Silva – Trumpet
Marte Eberson – Vintage Vibe Electronic Piano (it says here – Fender Rhodes?), Moog Voyager, Nord Electro (right)
Erlend Slettevoll – Fender Rhodes, Moog Voyager, Prophet-5 (left)
Ole Mofjell – Percussion
Torstein Lofthus – Drums
Record Label: Rune Grammofon
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 12th June 2020