Hedvig Mollestad-Ekhidna.

Label: Rune Grammofon.

Format: CD.

In May 2018, award-winning Norwegian guitarist, vocalist, bandleader and composer Hedvig Mollestad was thirty-six and one of the leading lights of the vibrant Nordic music scene. Her band the Hedvig Mollestad Trio had already released five albums and had already recorded their sixth album Smells Funny. Despite the commercial success and critical acclaim that that the Trio were enjoying, Hedvig Mollestad was starting to think about writing for a larger group. She wanted to expand her musical horizons, and a letter she received allowed her to do that.

When Hedvig Mollestad opened the letter it as from the organisers of the long-running and prestigious Vossajazz festival which was established in 1973. The organisers wanted to commission a work for 2019 festival. This was the perfect opportunity to do what she had been thinking about, and write for a bigger group. She accepted the invitation and began working on the commission.

Hedvig Mollestad called the completed commission Ekhidna, which is a figure from Greek mythology that is half woman, half snake. She said the commission featured loosely tied themes about “human struggle and being a mother in times when our increasing inability to live in harmony with nature paints a bleak picture.” 

With the commission complete, Hedvig Mollestad began putting an expanded band together. This was no ordinary band and featured some top musicians, and it was akin to a nascent supergroup. 

Joining bandleader and guitarist Hedvig Mollestad were Elephant9 drummer Torstein Lofthus, and percussionist Ole Mofjell who was the youngest member of the band but had plenty of experience within the European improv scene. They were joined by Marte Eberson who spent five years of her career with Highasakite, and Erlend Slettevoll of The Core and Grand General who both switched between keyboards and synths. The final member of the band was Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva who Hedvig Mollestad played alongside in Mats Gustafsson´s Nu-Ensemble. This was the lineup that would appear at the Vossajazz festival.

Billed as the festival by the lake, Vossajazz took place in April 2019 and three works had been commissioned. However, Hedvig Mollestad was the guest of honour and with her band played her new work Ekhidna, which lasted seventy-five minutes. It was a spellbinding performance of a genre-melting piece that won over critics at Vossajazz. 

After the success of the performance at Vossajazz, it was decided to release Ekhidna as an album. To make it suitable for album release, the full festival version was edited, tightened up in places, and then the band recorded Ekhidna earlier in 2020 at Amper Tone studio in Oslo with Hedvig Mollestad taking charge of production. Once the album was complete, it was scheduled for release in the summer of 2020.

Hedvig Mollestad’s much-anticipated solo album Ekhidna was recently released by Rune Grammofon, and marks another chapter in her distinguished career. On Ekhidna she leads a a multitalented and versatile sextet which features six soundscapes that last just forty minutes. This is much shorter than the original work premiered at Ekhidna lasted seventy-five minutes. 

Ekhidna opens with No Friends But The Mountains which lasts just under two minutes. It is atmospheric, moody and cinematic with the guitar and trumpet playing starring roles on a track that sounds like it’s part of the score to a Norwegian Western.

Very different is A Stone’s Throw which combines elements of heavy rock, fusion, progressive rock and metal. Again, Hedvig Mollestad’s blistering, riffing guitar plays a leading role as Torstein Lofthus’ drums power and drive the arrangement along. Then from 1.46 to 3.03 it’s all change and it’s as if Dave Gilmour circa Dark Side Of The Moon has made a guest appearance, as the guitar glistens and shimmers during an interlude that is best descried as pastoral fusion. However, normal service is the resumed as the band explode out of the blocks with machine gun riffs sprayed across the driving arrangement. It gathers speed and become urgent and frenzied before a detour via the earlier hard rocking sound and then fusion on this seven minute genre-melting opus.

The searing guitar that opens Antilone is a mere amuse bouche before this pile driver of an arrangement explodes into life. Soon, the band fuse elements of progressive rock, fusion, math rock and draw inspiration from King Crimson, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. This is given a ‘21st’ Century makeover by producer and bandleader Hedvig Mollestad. She unleashes one of her finest solos wielding her guitar like a musical Merlin as she unleashes a blistering, searing and scorching solo where she plays with speed, power and invention before the track reaches a crescendo after ten magical minutes. It’s been a truly breathtaking performance. 

Slightly Lighter has a much more understated sound as a shimmering, glistening and rippling guitar glides across the spacious arrangement. It’s very different to much of what’s gone before and is melancholy ruminative and invites reflection.

On Ekhidna Hedvig Mollestad swaggers centrestage and unleashes a Hendrix-inspired guitar solo as the drums add a degree of drama, trumpet brays and the rest of the band join the frae. As Hedvig Mollestad unleashes another virtuoso performance she deploys an array of effects before exiting stage left. Trumpeter Susana Santos Silva then unleashes an improvised solo playing with speed, power and urgency, as the interplay between the two drummers add to the drama and intensity. So does the guitar when it returns,  Hedvig Mollestad channels the spirit of Hendrix before this improvised epic reaches a crescendo.

One Leaf Left closes Ekhidna and as it unfolds, it has an understated sound. The guitar takes centrestage before the trumpet and keyboards add to the wistful, melancholy and filmic sound. At 5.20 the searing, scorching guitars cuts through the arrangement and at one point the band seem to draw inspiration from Santana. By now, it’s rocky and dramatic and a very different soundscape thanks to Hedvig Mollestad’s intoxicating and breathtaking guitar riffs. It’s a case of keeping one of the best until last on Ekhidna.

Hedvig Mollestad’s new Ekhidna which was recently released by Rune Grammofon, and is an album with its roots in the past and present. It’s an album that has been influenced by classic and hard rock, fusion, improv, math rock, metal, progressive rock and psychedelia. Then there’s the influence of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention, Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Santana as well as Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Orchestra. All these disparate genres and influences play their part in the sound and success of Ekhidna.

It finds Hedvig Mollestad leading her new supergroup from the front and plays a starring role throughout the six soundscapes on Ekhidna. They seamlessly switch between and combine different musical genres, and sometimes, Hedvig Mollestad throws a curveball and the soundscapes on Ekhidna heads in a new direction and it becomes a magical mystery tour. This the cerebral supergroup take in their stride on Ekhidna, which is an intoxicating epic and features Nordic guitar wielding riff-meister Hedvig Mollestad at the peak of her considerable powers as she embarks on a new chapter in her glittering career.

Hedvig Mollestad-Ekhidna.

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