The consistently eclectic Svart Records never ceases to amaze with their wide variety of releases, and one can never predict just what is to come next from this label. One month, they hit you with a brutal extreme metal album, the next vintage '70s styled prog rock or folk, and another it could be punk or even good old fashioned hard rock or psychedelic. Here we have an archival live jazz-fusion release from the early '70s from Finnish act Heikki Sarmanto Serious Music Ensemble, part one of a three disc series of rare live recordings from the N-Club in Helsinki, recorded between 1971 and 1972. Keyboard player Sarmanto assembled some other fine players in this band, notably Heikki's brother Pekka on bass, Juhani Aaltonen on saxophone, Craig Herndon on drums and Lance Gunderson on guitar. For this first installment, and as it appears the following two, the band is minus Aaltonen (who did not play live with them all the time), but the music can best be described as fiery jazz-rock, Sarmanto's insistent Fender Rhodes electric piano reminding of vintage Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Joe Zawinul, as he engages Gunderson's guitar in many battles while the rhythm team rumbles underneath. The 15-minute "Mysterious Runs" contains plenty of atmosphere as well as extended solo explorations, while the magical "Azure Skies" features a wealth of truly majestic guitar solos from Gunderson, and if you can imagine a cross between Pat Metheny or John McLaughlin with Corea tinkling the electric ivories alongside, you get a good idea of what to expect here. The raging "Hop-Scotch" reminds of classic Larry Coryell and the Eleventh House with it's busy bass lines, zig-zagging guitar lines, tricky drum fills, and floating Fender Rhodes. The fun never stops throughout, with the mammoth "Seagull" containing 17-minutes of blazing jazz-rock, guitar weaving with electric piano while the drums sizzle, the band still maintaining a sense of melody throughout the mix of free-jazz and rock.
To put it rather simply, any fan of late '60s/early '70s jazz-fusion will absolutely want to investigate this one, and the other two releases in this series.
02 Magic Suite
04 Free Lance
05 Mysterious Runs
06 Azure Skies