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Hedvig Mollestad - Ehkidna [Rune Grammofon - 2020]

Experimental jazz rock guitarist Hedvig Mollestad has returned in 2020 with a new lineup, separate from her famed Hedvig Mollestad Trio, the group from which most of her music has emerged over the past ten years.  Her new band is larger, including two percussionists, a keyboardist and a trumpet player.  Ehkidna is an album of lightly overdriven pentatonic blues shred set to a polyrhythmic afrobeat pulse, executed with clear-headed prog rock precision and jazz fusion tonal knowledge.

Like much of the Norwegian scene, Hedvig is pre-occupied with a convergence of particular sounds that occurred in the 1970's, from Eric Dolphy's eerie space jazz to Fela Kuti's afrobeat and King Crimson's moody, psychedelic progressive opuses.  Hedvig's music is truly equal parts of each, a sound that indicates these worlds need not have ever been separate.  Marte Eberson's blown out electric piano solidifies the vintage sound.

There is a firey live energy to this album, which has the vivid spontaneity of "Bitches' Brew".  The inclusion of two percussionists make this a thunderously kinetic recording, with a rock solid beat unusually danceable for jazz.  The players are bold, and hit hard.  This is an album for those who like a bit of energy and drive.  While there are patient melodic moments in which Hedvig displays great chordal knowledge (like the short piece "Slightly Lighter"), they function as brief interludes amongst lively percussive workouts lasting seven-ten minutes each.

Hedvig allows ample space for improvisation, diverging from the often quite technical head sections into raging solos in which the energy of the band drives up and up, pushing to cathartic peaks which must be wonderful to hear live.  At times she wails on the whammy bar and indulges in pure noise.  Drummer Torstein Lofthus is a beast with fills and impeccable rhythmic sense that allows him to land gracefully back on the downbeat no matter how chaotically he rages the moment before.

Personally, I'm not usually a fan of re-exploring blues themes in jazz or technical music, as the pentatonic blues scale is the single most used in all of Western music.  That said, Hedvig's album feels fresh anyway, the fusion influences providing a lush, fleshed out harmony to the simplicity of the Sabbath-esque pentatonic riffs.  The inclusion of the trumpet was a wonderful idea; Susana Santos' performance is punctuated and intense, and her unisons with Hedvig have a beautiful tone.

Hedvig Mollestad's newest project Ehkidna brings serious energy and musicianship, and can't be recommended enough.  it is both jazz and rock. and it is a shining example of the visceral potential of live improvisatory music.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Landry
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