Recording of September 2010: Jitterbug

Bushman's Revenge: Jitterbug
Rune Grammofon RCD 2097/RLP 3097 (LP/CD). 2010. Bushman's Revenge, prods.; Hasse Rosbach, prod., eng.; Morton Stendahl, eng. DDA/DDD. TT: 53:39
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

Bushman's Revenge is, in the purest sense, a power trio: Even Helte Hermansen on guitar, Rune Nergaard on bass, and Gard Nilssen on drums. They are joined on two tracks by Stole Storløkken's Hammond organ. They are from Norway. They crush. As much with the fury of their homeland's black metal as with the angst of 1960s American free jazz, they crush. They play instrumentals. The instruments do all the singing—there may be no vocalist who can endure the band's fire, though a prime Abbey Lincoln or Linda Sharrock might suffice. In Bushman's more introspective moments, you'll hear shades of Jeff Beck's emotion, but the band puts Beck's commotion to shame. You will not hear them cover "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," that's for damn sure. Nor will you hear an aria from Turandot, though you will hear a blistering, razor-sharp version of Motorhead's "Damage Case." And from this album's earliest moments, you'll know that Jitterbug is everything a "Recording of the Month" should be—an exciting and moving performance of outstanding material, exquisitely captured.

The opening track, "Always in Motion the Future Is," begins with a simple but menacing bass line and a solid drum pattern of repeated ride cymbal, kick, and snare. Locked in tight embrace, Nergaard's bass and Nilssen's drums slowly increase in volume and intensity until joined by Hermansen's guitar, deftly clinging to yet accentuating the steadily growing bass riff.

This is doom-laden stuff. Just 40 seconds into the album and we know we're in a deep mess. Now the guitar, like some slumbering Satan awakened—perhaps initially uncertain, dazed, assessing the situation—rises and swirls and unhinges its mighty jaws. We hear the shimmering sound of Hermansen's fingers, like blades against a spinning whetstone, scaling brass strings as they race up and down the instrument's neck; he's creating a maelstrom of high-pitched wails and guttural moans, strangling the guitar as a serpent might strangle its helpless prey. The drums fire a relentless spray of cymbal crashes and blast beats. The bass lurches and tugs and churns. Amid this chaos, Hermansen finds an arching, heartrending melody and seizes it; he returns to it time and again as the music grows more frenetic until, at 9.5 minutes in, the trio falls together and settles down to nothing, leaving us where we began, worn but exhilarated.

This is Bushman's Revenge: A band devoted to merging terror with beauty, and carrying the heady concoction to its physical and emotional limits.

We find no relief in "Kill Your Jitterbug Darlings." Introduced by an ascending scale, a straight-ahead hardcore beat, and a taut bass line, the song is a raging blitzkrieg of guitar and drums. Midway through, we're propelled into a glorious celebration marked by Storløkken's swelling organ and Hermansen's precisely muted lead. Listen and revel as the guitarist builds miniature melodic movements, sweep-picking and raking his way through stuttered arpeggiated chords.

Then the band shifts gears. "While My Guitar Gently Breaks" is a heavy but playful blues reminiscent of Hendrix that, with its memorable lead riff, is perhaps Jitterbug's most accessible tune. "Too Old to Die Young," a gentle and glorious meditation, opens with delicate touches on the cymbals and takes the most tentative steps before gradually developing into a soul-stirring dance. Acoustic guitar joins the mix, while the electric takes on the ruddy tone and feeling of Ask the Ages–era Sonny Sharrock, inspiring the sort of spiritual awakening known to fans of adventurous improvisers like Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders. The band plays just the right notes, making it obvious that we are traveling to a special place; yet when we arrive, we find that place more magnificent than we had imagined: a perfect resolution, and completely fulfilling.

Jitterbug closes with "Waltz for My Good Man," a somber and delicious reprieve of piercing, palms-in-eye-sockets beauty. It sizzles away with trembling hi-hat and reverberant guitar, and we are momentarily paralyzed, unable to believe that we've reached the end. It's over? Just like that? It can't be over . . .

Throughout, the sound is stunning. Roughly 90% of Jitterbug was recorded live in the studio over just three days, with minimal acoustic guitar, percussion, organ, and dobro overdubs captured three weeks later. Initial takes were produced using Pro Tools HD3, though all drum sub-mixes and most guitar sub-mixes were transferred to 2" tape, then back into Pro Tools before mastering. The mixing process saw judicious application of spring reverb and tape delay, minor EQ adjustments, and extremely careful use of a Vintage Design CL1 Mk.II compression unit. On my system, the CD edition provided a cleaner, more immediate sound, while the LP was meatier and imparted instruments, especially acoustic ones, with greater truth of timbre. Pick your pleasure. Every hard-rock record should be this explosive. Enthusiastically recommended, obviously.—Stephen Mejias