Album review

A Tonic For The Troops – ‘Ambush’

A Tonic For The Troops – Ambush
(Odin Records ODINCD9575 – Review by Peter Slavid)

If you have listened to any amount of music from Norway, there’s a good chance you’ll have heard the bass of Ellen Brekken before. You may have heard her playing electric bass with a heavy rock beat in the Hedvig Mollestad Trio, or more gently on a double bass in the Tord Gustavsson Trio, or in any of the many other bands she plays in. However, this is her first album as leader and composer, and she has chosen an interesting name for the band.

The name “A Tonic for the Troops” does not come from the Boomtown Rats album of that name, it comes from the original Winston Churchill quote that “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.” This arose from the fact that the quinine added to tonic water prevented the onset of malaria for the British troops in India. The historical military theme in the album continues with track titles, a cover showing the band in military uniforms, and a lot of opportunities for the PR team to use both drink and military allusions which you just can’t get from a more eponymous band name.

Brekken has put together a fine quartet. Espen Berg on piano leads a very successful trio of his own, Magnus Bakken is a young saxophonist, a graduate from Berklee who definitely bears watching, and Magnus Sefaniassen Eide on drums plays in a variety of jazz and pop environments.

The music is generally melodic and bouncy with strong and sometimes powerful solos. The title track has a conventional structure. It starts with a fast bebop style melody over Brekken’s strong base line. That’s repeated, then Bakken starts a powerful extended solo, initially with just drums before the others join, and that’s followed by a sparkling piano solo. After that a short bass solo leads back to the melody. The band’s press release describes the music as “high energy,” and that’s a fair description.

Following the military theme the opening track is The Capitulation of Alexandria and it does have a Middle Eastern feel to it, but other titles like Monozygotic are a bit more obscure.

This is an album that avoids many of the cliches of Norwegian Jazz. It doesn’t have heavy prog-rock beats, and it isn’t dreamy soundscapes. Instead we get a sound that is relatively straight-ahead post-bop, but with a modern and contemporary sound, allied to extremely strong soloing, making it a most enjoyable hour.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on several internet stations including mixcloud.com/ukjazz

LINK: Ambush on Bandcamp

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