Master Oogway is a four-piece Norwegian band made up of young, adventurous musicians intent on making high energy music based on a jazz-rock improv ethos. Earth and Other Worlds is the quartet’s second release, following on from their debut on Clean Feed Records in 2018. Strong group interaction mixes with spontaneous solo sketches to create a mellay of juxtaposed sounds, from avant-garde jazz to heavy rock and back again.
There’s a bit of a false dawn to this album. The first three minutes are simply stunning, sounding like a Norwegian hybrid version of Kit Downes, Tom Challenger and Robert Stillman. A pastiche of atmospheric sound is created as a backdrop for some beautiful blowing from saxophonist Lauritz Skeldsvoll. And then it turns like a bruised monster baying for blood. Håvard Nordberg Funderud’s thunderous guitar leads the way, with locked and loaded back-up from drummer Martin Heggli Mellem and bassist Karl Erik Horndalsveen. And on this opening track, the contrast works really well. It’s the light and dark shades and opposing atmospheres that create tension and release, thus making for a powerfully potent combination.
As the album unfolds each track has its moments of brilliance, and there is just enough variation to keep me interested. After a while though, the spontaneous improvisation and prog-rock cliches become a little too tried and tested, a little stale perhaps, the same formula repeating itself. It’s as if the band are trying too hard maybe to push even more boundaries when all they need to do is relax a little bit.
Earth and Other Worlds shows a lot of promise from this young Norwegian quartet. With a little more finesse in their performance and a more focussed element to their writing style, this could be one hell of a band in the future. I look forward with great interest to hearing their development and new releases.