Mikkel Nordsø Quintet ‘Out There’ LP/CD (Stunt) 5/5

Danish guitarist and composer Mikkel Nordsø’s latest offering, ‘Out There’, sees the player combine forces with Swedish saxophonist Tomas Franck to provide us with a record heavily indebted to their musical heroes, Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane. A spoiler alert is not required as early in the record Nordsø places a massive road sign in our path in the form of a powerful Hendrix like noise/riff to inform us of our projected line of travel. Thankfully the players inhabit their alter egos in such a way as to give each other the time and space to map what might have been a cosmic meeting of musical minds in a more considered fashion. Otherwise, the record may just have been too exhaustingly explosive.

Nordsø explains it has been his long term ambition to make an album exploring an alternative future where Hendrix and Coltrane encounter each other since he was inspired by the psychedelic and cosmic sound of both musicians from a young age. Kindred spirit Franck who is also something of a Coltrane stylist seemed to be an ideal band member for the project. They are joined by Ben Besiakov on keyboards and Anders Christensen on bass, two musicians equally at home in a jazz or rock setting. When Nordsø heard Elvin Jones mentored drummer Alvin Queen he knew the line up was complete.

One thing about this record, Nordsø doesn’t mess about with the track titles, each one pretty much lets us know what’s going to happen. ‘Take Off’ the first, is no exception, although the cat is not quite out of the bag at this point and we are eased into the theme of the project. The guitar intro is an acoustic blues-tinged flourish followed by Besiakov’s keyboard textures leading to the main theme on guitar and sax. The electric piano adds a lightness of touch with Nordsø’s guitar now way back in the mix. The main riff emerges from this courtesy of Franck and Nordsø in combination once again. On hearing this I felt I had entered a very familiar room which had undergone subtle changes in the position of the furniture and the colour of the walls, refreshing, but at the same time slightly disconcerting.

The road sign I mentioned earlier appears on the title track, ‘Out There’, Nordsø channels the spirit of Hendrix loudly and clearly, this was the point I got what the record is about. For my money, the spirit of Frank Zappa was also muscling in on the act at some points but I have no complaints about this. An explosive sax comes in with such force that Franck almost loses his breath at one point. We are also treated to some keyboard work sounding like it came from an early 70s Miles Davis live date before the return of the heavily Hendrix inflected guitar sound, the sax finds its way out of this into a quietened zone where the guitar settles into a cleaner less distorted tone.

‘Floating Squaw’ offers some relief from the frenetic nature of the previous tune and gives us a reflection of the sweeter, softer side of Coltrane, fused with subtle wah-wah guitar.

‘Rock Train’ is heavy on riffs with some Jon Lord style organ work buried beneath the tenor, as well as a smidgen of Jimmy Page ‘Dazed and Confused’ style bowing of the guitar. This train has many wagons, each spilling something into the mix.

‘Next to the Mountain’ neatly quotes Hendrix’s own ‘Voodoo Chile’ lyric for its title, and sees extended solos from Nordsø and Franck. The piece encapsulates several moods after a wildly exuberant guitar intro, squeaking fret sounds are followed by a Hammond passage from Besiakov which reminded me of Joey Defrancesco’s organ work on John McLaughlin’s own Coltrane homage, ‘After the Rain’.

The album rounds off with ‘Sweet Silence’ very much in the mode of Miles Davis’ ‘In a Silent Way’ with Besiakov directly quoting Zawinul’s keyboard in places. Franck here perhaps wondering what might have been should Coltrane have been around long enough to show up on ‘In a Silent Way’, though at times he sounds more like Wayne Shorter in a dreamy 60s mood.

A great album, quite playfully thought-provoking in setting up the Hendrix meets Coltrane scenario. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. l shall also be digging out some Hendrix and Coltrane records to listen afresh in the light of this album.

James Read