Album review: SOT – Kind of Saltz

SOT - Kind Of Saltz

Soltanic Sounds [Available now]

‘Kind of Saltz’ appears to have been released some time ago but has just popped again in my pile of CD’s be reviewed.  It’s a wide ranging and engaging album, best described as 70’s jazz-rock fusion, with proggy metal edges and other musical elements that push it to the margins of the mainstream.

Suffice it say SOT is a Norwegian power trio with a difference. They place a guitar, tuba and drums at the centre of some ridiculously complex music, stoked by fast time signatures, and sharp dynamics that are clearly influenced by Zappa, King Crimson and sundry fusion players. The net result is a restless, dynamic album that pursues several imaginative avenues, but never settles for anything more consistent than making a splash with a partial resolution, before setting off again on some more blistering runs.

You can feel the spontaneity as the band soars,  ducks and dives, only to rise again on a jazz-rock landscape,  given its unique colour by the tub as a frontline instrument. We are suckered in by Skjalg Reithuag’s slick shredding before a tuba led stop-start section full of fragmented tension and its gradual resolution.

And it is this constant stop-start dynamic that acts as the anchor of the album as a whole, leading to fleeting moments such as the flighty guitar and Lars Andreas’s double line tuba intro of ‘Tusjpoen’, and the aching theme of ‘Follower’, before it is eventually torn asunder by sudden repeated electronic squalls (the backward sounding tapes of their day).

Where bands like Family and King Crimson invented the quiet to loud dynamic that characterised a lot of the early 70’s prog rock era, this combo transpose the idea to a fusion setting and speed it all up.

‘Den Avsagde’ provides some sharp contrast as the tuba takes a central role in an ambient style, brooding piece which breathes sufficiently to let the gently blown notes hover and then quietly land.

The effect is not unlike the whale noises to be found on Steve Miller band’s ‘Sailor’ album. The trio then revert to type, by launching into the stop-start ’Stotten’ with lightning time signatures, before it twists and turns into something different again, as a tuba solo rises above nuanced wah-wah, and a moog solo presses the accelerator pedal to momentarily evoke Focus.

In many respects the album’s strength is also its weakness, as some incendiary playing is compromised by a constant desire to change tack before fully exploring a series of themes, riffs and moods.

SOT are a superbly drilled combo, who obviously enjoy taking a leap into the dark when soloing.  But by the three quarter mark, the beautifully nuanced and gently voiced guitar of ‘End of Saltz’ comes as a welcome relief from the kind of relentless noodling that they subsequently return to on ‘Oftebrua’.

Had this album been released in the early 70’s it would undoubtedly have been regarded as progressive, but given the 3 subsequent decades of jazz- rock fusion, SOT is faced with a small musical niche.

‘Kind of Saltz is a decent album, with some dazzling playing and several mesmerising moments. What it lacks is depth and emotional substance. The closing ‘Tzar Saltan’ for example, is a virtuoso triumph, but as with much of the album, it is also too fragmented and doesn’t quite gel enough to create the bigger picture that could make a project like this more memorable.  ***

Review by Pete Feenstra.

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