AMN Reviews: Hedvig Mollestad – Ekhidna (2020; Rune Grammofon)

I wish I could blame the pandemic for my completely missing this compelling release from nine months ago. But in reality, I am sure that I caught wind of it at one point or another and it just got buried under a countless pile of other material. In the theme of “better late than never”, here are a few thoughts on the latest from guitarist Hedvig Mollestad.

Known best for her trio, which has been in existence for over ten years, Mollestad is quite a versatile and in-demand player. She appears in numerous projects in addition to her own, most of which originate out of her native Norway. Ekhidna features an expanded and unusual lineup with Torstein Lofthus on drums, Ole Mofjell on percussion, Marte Eberson and Erlend Slettevoll on keyboards, and Susana Santos Silva on trumpet.

This bass-less sextet powers its way through half a dozen tracks that combine 70’s hard rock, prog, and jazz. There is no shortage of riffing, power chords, soloing, and intricate rhythmic structures. Santos is something of a wild card throughout, complementing Mollestad’s playing and helping give the recording an electric Miles vibe at times. On the other hand, the bluesy opening riff of the title track harkens to Black Sabbath, while the trumpet and dual percussionists bring the piece more into jazz – or even early Santana – territory. And then there is Antilone, a 10-minute cut that just plain rocks – albeit with Santos adding unusual textures as well as catchy soloing. Eberson and Slettevoll provide atmospheric chording to support Mollestad’s fierce solo that ends the excursion.

Ekhidna is perhaps less overtly avant-garde than most releases discussed in these pages. Nonetheless, it is influenced by much of the same source material as the more outside offerings covered. And for that reason, as well as its stellar execution, the album is more than worthwhile.