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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Starlight Barking

Slam SLAMCD 282



1. Moscow Night Train
2. Igor's U-turns
3. (Stek)-Paranoid
4. The Tone, the Whole Tone and Nothing but the Tone
5. Brother Nick
6. Calypso Collapso
7. The Ballad of the Heavyweight Champions
8. So You Claim
9. Sunday
10. Starlight Barking

Mads Kjolby - Electric and acoustic guitars
Steve Kershaw - Double bass
Petter Svard - Drums, percussion


My review of Songs from the Black Earth, which included two of the three members of Stekpanna, noted how exciting they could be when heard live. I expressed the hope that their next album would be recorded live but this is a studio album, taped at On Location Studios in Copenhagen. Perhaps this accounts for some of the disappointment I feel with this CD - Stekpanna's first as a trio since their 1997 debut Standin' Tall.

A trio of guitar, bass and drums has built-in limitations which somehow don't affect other three-piece line-ups like the traditional piano trio. Too often this CD seems to feature guitarist Mads Kjolby backed by the bass and drums, instead of presenting the trio as an integrated group. Mads is a fine guitarist but his dominance of the album tends to turn the bass and drums into mere accompanists. Bassist Steve Kershaw is frequently relegated to playing ostinato figures, while drummer Petter Svard seems content to establish a rhythm which he continues without much variation. For example, his chugging rhythm on Moscow Night Train could do with more variation. Even his few drum solos display little imagination. One suspects that the trio could do so much more by involving the bass and drums more closely - perhaps by using the possibilities of counterpoint between guitar and bass, or by sharing out the solo responsibilities more evenly.

At any rate, the tunes contain many attractive melodies - the sort of thing that might be heard from Pat Metheny's groups, although Kjolby's guitar sounds less seductive than Metheny's. The trio shares composing credits between them, with one non-original: an unexpected but successful run at Black Sabbath's Paranoid. This has a gutsy feel which is absent from some other tracks, even though Kershaw's robust bass adds a welcome depth to most numbers.

Another sinewy track is Calypso Collapso, which combines a hustling Latin rhythm with a convoluted melody line. This contrasts with some of the other pieces, which consist of the guitar stating the theme, doing a solo, and then restating the theme: leaving little for his colleagues to do. The title-track also has a stimulating funky beat.

I enjoyed Stekpanna's previous album because, although the guitarist was absent, the CD included two guests who varied the sound and the mood with their contributions on saxes and piano. Sadly, this new album contains too little contrast to hold the listener's attention, despite the undoubted talents of the group's members.

Tony Augarde

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