Jazzaggression Records dig deep into the archives from mid-1970s Oslo to release a four-track vinyl album (plus a digital bonus) by a group called the Jan Simonsen Quintet featuring Simonsen on keyboards, Trond Matheson on sax, flautist Svein Hansen and rhythm section; Kristian Røstad on electric bass and drummer Thor Bendikson. Although recorded late 75/early 76, these tunes have never had a commercial release up until now. This line-up was active for a couple of years from 1974 until Bendikson and Simonsen departed for twee jazzy proggers Ruphus. I admit I had never heard of Ruphus until now but they apparently built up a decent following on the European mainland back in the day, particularly in West Germany.
“Martin” begins slowly with a quite long solo piano intro which does not feel like it fits with rest of the track but it’s Simonsen’s band so he can do what he likes! Then the band jump head first into the uplifting joyous motif driven hard by the rockist leanings of the robust rhythm section. After the delicate flute/sax introduction, the energetic work-out of “Afro Blue” is pretty much faithful to Trane’s version so there’s not too many surprises, but it is fun.
Side Two and the stand out track, “Agnus” is smooth and luxuriant but balanced with staccato bluesy piano and vigorous drums. The intense “Fire Sju” drips with syrupy Rhodes riding on the momentum of the disciplined rhythm section’s pounding repetition.
The digital only track, “Kyrie”, is an entertaining slice of contemporary funky fusion built on solid but groovy bass. The pitch wheel synth solo is especially exciting. There are a few mistakes in the performance and the ending is very abrupt so I’m guessing that they may be the reasons why it doesn’t make the cut which I think is a bit of a shame.
The music is clearly influenced by fusion pioneers such as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, etc. and is very much evocative of its time. However, listening, it comes as no surprise that as the group splintered some members found their way into prog rock. I can’t honestly say that this is an essential record but the musicianship is good and there is exuberance and positivity in the performance which is infectious to the listener. It has been a real pleasure to listen to and if you dig Headhunters et al, then you’ll also enjoy this.