After delivering the wonderful but uncharacteristically brief Greatest Show on Earth in 2018, Norway's premier jazz-rock outfit Elephant9 return with two sprawling double-length albums. Psychedelic Backfire I and II are live offerings captured over four nights at Kampen Bistro. The first two nights were presented by the original trio of keyboardist Ståle Storløkken, drummer Torstein Lofthus, and bassist Nikolai Hængsle, while the latter two evenings feature frequent collaborator, guitarist Reine Fiske. On each, the band revisit tunes from their back catalog without overdubs, edits, or corrections of any kind as well as covers.
The first volume comes full-circle with "I Cover the Mountaintop," finding the trio looking all the way back to their 2008 debut, Dodovoodoo. It's introduced moodily by Storløkken with gentle, nearly ambient tones as Hængsle offers spare, luxuriant fills. When Lofthus enters at 3:20, they usher in the vamp and begin a series of prog breakdowns and pairings of instruments in interludes, sonic effects, and improvisations. At over 12-minutes long, it's three minutes longer than the original. They hurtle forward with a chaotic yet funky take on "Farmer's Secret" from Greatest Show on Earth, with killer breaks and pummeling rolls from Lofthus adorning Jack Bruce-style grooves from Hængsle. Storløkken careens between Larry Young's futurist soul-jazz and a prog style created by Soft Machine's Mike Ratledge. "Habanera Rocket," from 2010's Walk the Nile, commences as a hyperkinetic exercise in hypnotic repetition from the organist's right hand, while his left hand and Hængsle's bass engage a funky riff atop Lofthus' rolling snare and kick drum. Its tempo increases slightly, as does the dynamic tension as Storløkken begins a spacy cascading solo. The latter half of the set commences with a spiraling medley of "Skink" and "Fugl Fønix" entering a furious collision of avant jazz, fusion, and prog before racing into the frenzied, unhinged "Actionpack 1," that features killer, furious soloing from Storløkken before careening into a psychotically psychedelicized take on Dodovoodoo that crisscrosses Elephant9's chosen spectrum of genres. It's the perfect way to close 72 minutes of seamless music making, warts and all. Live recordings make up a significant portion of Elephant9's catalog. Of the dates they've issued sans Fiske, it may just be the finest. At the least it provides definitive versions of the chosen sequence of jams.