Puma

Half Nelson Courtship

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Puma's third album is also their first for Rune Grammofon -- a natural enough home for any band under a Norwegian jazz rubric, perhaps, but even more understandable given bandleader Stian Westerhus' solo work for the label, where exploration of the electric guitar's near-end points (sustained feedback shards, glitches of noise, distant textures) takes even more precedence. In his group's context, those elements sometimes remain solely dominant -- it's about all there is at the start of the ten-minute title track, but as the full trio develops the piece from scuzz into a general exultance, Puma's lineage in both free jazz landmarks and epic prog metal becomes clear. (On a song like "Knitstep," where Westerhus lets fly with a thrilling solo toward the end while the band's obsessive churn builds up and up, a near exact balancing point is the result.) The rolling power of Gard Nilssen's drumming on that song and elsewhere, such as "M.E.O.W.," fits the flow of the band's work perfectly, while Øystein Moen's electronics, if sometimes the subtlest element of the group's compositions, often add understated texture and shading to what Westerhus and Nilssen are whipping up. He takes the lead at a couple of points, like the murky clatter of "Gaberdine Lingerie," where the guitar and drums seem like they're coming from a distant room. But they all slot in together on "Hachioji Silk Blues," the album's conclusion, feeling like a brief, melancholy tribute to something now irretrievably gone, Westerhus' solo a cleaner but still pushed-to-the-limit shriek and Moen's organ a final horror-movie-into-hymn flourish.

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