Berdon Kirksaether And The Twang Bar Kings – Latenighters Under A Full Moon

berdonkirksaethercd Berdon Kirksaether & The Twang Bar Kings – Latenighters Under A Full Moon

 Roller Records

1 1 songs – 39 minutes

 Latenighters Under A Full Moon is a brave piece of music, to say the least.  An all-instrumental concept album, it relates (through the medium of music) the story of a tight-knit group of male friends on an all-night bender one Saturday night. It starts with the men warming up and getting into a party mood, then follows them as they visit various clubs, drinking, chasing women and soul-searching.  Some of the gang drop out as the evening progresses, finally leaving three friends to crawl home under the full moon of the title. 

If this sounds uncomfortably close to the sort of thing Spinal Tap would have done after “Jazz Odyssey”, then the first song, “Go Cat Go”, will do nothing reassure you. It fades in to the discordant sound of a band warming up over a ragged jazz groove, with the musicians not quite playing together, bent notes not quite reaching pitch and the groove being missed by a mile. If you are aware that the music is deliberately trying to capture the sensation of a group of guys separately trying to get ready for a night out together, you may be more tolerant of it, but it is difficult to imagine too many people deliberately adding “Go Cat Go” to their favourite playlists.

Things do however pick up as the album progresses. The second song, “Cool Cats On The Move” features nicely atmospheric, echoed arpeggio guitar lines that give the song the feel of a film soundtrack. Jump numbers such as “Conrad’s Bar Bounty” and “Jumping The Night Away” add a welcome shot of the blues to an album that touches on jazz, blues, rock and even Latin music over the course of 11 songs.

The album is the brainchild of Berdon Kirksaether, a Norwegian guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer. Kirksaether and his band are well-established in the Norwegian blues scene and this 2013 CD was partly recorded in Norway, partly in Germany. Kirksaether is joined by bassist and keyboardist Stein Tumert and drummer Olaf Olsen. Additional support is provided by Øyvind Sørby (saxophone), Finn Tore Tokle (bass on “Rendezvous”) and Leo Volskiy on organ and piano for three songs.

Kirksaether wrote all the songs and this is very much his album.  All of the songs are led by and heavily feature his guitar.  He is clearly a solid blues-rock player, but on the evidence of this album, it is less obvious that he is a natural jazz or pure blues player.  There is little variation in tone or texture in his playing within individual songs, bar the occasional lowering or raising of volume. In addition, some of his bends are microtonally flat, creating a disconcerting sensation for the listener. His best playing is on the rockier/poppier numbers, such as the Latino groove of “Rendezvous” or the blues-rock of “Midnight Haze”. Tumert and Olsen provide solid support, particularly on the jazzier numbers.

The blues is primarily a voice-led music; as a result, instrumental albums are rare and successful ones even more so.  The acknowledged classics in the genre have tended to lean towards jazz (for example, Ronnie Earl or Duke Robillard) or are written with memorably catchy melodies (Freddie King, Rick Holmstrom). Successful instrumental concept albums are even rarer. Indeed, in today’s digital world, it is difficult to understand the thinking behind them. The listener can only learn about the storyline by reading the CD liner notes or checking the website, which may severely limit MP3 sales. In addition, many music fans like to mix a number of albums together and use “shuffle” as the default setting on their MP3 players, again undermining the very point of a concept album.

There is however a lot to enjoy on Latenighters.  It is clear the musicians are really enjoying themselves and there is some high quality playing, although it feels more like a soundtrack album than a collection of instrumental songs. It captures moods in moments, rather than laying down standalone songs with identifiable melodies and structures. It is a brave experiment, which is to be applauded, but it is one that is only intermittently successful.

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