The Norwegian jazz collective recalibrates the art of jamming
Artist: Red Kite
Album: Red Kite
Label: RareNoise Records
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
There’s an art to jamming, and it has nothing to do with so-called jam bands. The point is not to get a bunch of like-minded musicians together to solo their brains out, but to come together for collective composition that transcends what each player does outside of his or her usual context. Red Kite know this well.
That’s a difficult task. It’s easy for even the most creative musician to fall into simple patterns that merely set up space for long breaks that may or may not dig into a player’s skill or imagination. Coming up with something that goes beyond an artist’s natural instincts is much more demanding, and when it works, rewarding.
And this band from Norway is up to the challenge. Consisting of guitarist Even Helte Hermansen (Shining’s Blackjazz, Bushman’s Revenge), drummer Torstein Lofthus (Blackjazz, Elephant9), bassist Trond Frønes (Cadillac, Grand General) and keyboardist Bernt André Moen (another Blackjazz alumnus), the self-described “power quartet” brings a lot of firepower to the table, with backgrounds in both metal and jazz fusion. But the group doesn’t turn its combined energy to a free-form blowing session. Working with song frameworks provided by Hermansen, the band instead puts its hive mind toward collective improvisation, creating solid, heavy pieces that exceed the sum of their parts.
VIDEO: Alice Coltrane’s Ptah The El Daoud
Smartly, Red Kite kicks off the record with an ambitious cover: Alice Coltrane’s “Ptah, The El Daoud.” The keyboardist / composer’s blend of avant-jazz dynamics and spiritual pursuit provides a surprisingly appropriate platform for Red Kite, with the foursome deftly balancing dreamy swathes of keyboard and aggressive guitar figures – a stage-setting if there ever was one. Then the band delves into Hermansen’s originals. The charmingly titled “13 Enemas For Good Luck” leans on the musicians’ hard rock background, digging into the main riff with serious intent and placing it upfront in the mix. Though the crunch factor reigns, it never becomes obnoxious, evolving into an exercise in mantra instead of repetition. “Flew a Little Bullfinch Through the Window” eases on the throttle for a more atmospheric approach. The rhythm section keeps a steady, laidback groove, while Moen and Hermansen doubleteam the main riff and solo around each other, the former’s electric piano splashes coloring the latter’s surprisingly mellow lead lines.
The energy level heads back to the red for “Focus On Insanity.” Hermansen cranks his amp and blasts away, balancing psychedelic power rock with Middle Eastern tonalities. His keyboard bleeding into the distortion zone, Moen attacks his parts with zeal, adding tension with counter melodies instead of falling into discordant clichés. Lofthus really shines here, pounding his kit like a 70s hard rock master, but still keeping the essential swing that allows the improvisers to stay grounded. After that nearly overwhelming experience, the quartet wisely drifts off into the night with “You Don’t Know, You Don’t Know,” another misty excursion into pure atmosphere. Moen leads the way with meandering piano lines, while Hermansen sways in and out with shimmering six-string incursions. It’s a smart way to go out after the burning intensity of “Focus.”
Given the metallic and acidic influences and the musicians’ rock backgrounds, Red Kite could’ve descended into headnodding jam-out clichés. That it never does is a tribute to the talent and taste on display, and the strength of the bond between these players. Red Kite is less a band of individual skills than of one unified vision.
VIDEO: Red Kite’s version of “Ptah The El Daoud”