Solstein – Solstein album review

23 05 2023

Solstein is a project that melds the groovier side of fusion with elements of prog and funk. The band features drummer Keith Carlock (Steely Dan, Toto, John Legend, Sting) and multi-instrumentalist Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow, The Opium Cartel, Donner) as well as up-and-coming guitarist Stian Larsen and keyboardists Brynjar Dambo (White Willow) and Bill Bressler.

Solstein album cover (picture of a volcano with lava pouring into the sea).

The album was mixed and given pristine analog mastering at Holm-Lupo’s Dude Ranch Studio.

The Solstein album demands your full attention, and is an instrumental album that does not work as background music. Opener Intersection features an addictive bassline from Holm-Lupo and the sort of attention to detail, mood enhancing synth and electric piano work that paints the canvas on the many wonderful White Willow / The Opium Cartel releases. A top flight drum performance from Keith Carlock and wildly experimental guitar lines from Oslo based Stian Larsen set the scene for the songs that follow.

American jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s Oriental Folk Song throws down some grooves and performances that will get the Steely Dan fans heads bobbing. Strong solo synth lines from Bill Bressler bring this song, born in the 60s, into the here and now. I can’t wait to hear this album on vinyl, the music is made for that medium, and will highlight one of Holm-Lupo’s finest mixes to date.

Southwester is the only track on the album to not feature Stian Larsen, so the synths take centre stage. It is also the albums longest track, so there is plenty of time for the musicians to stretch their wings.

Brynjar Dambo joins Jacob with a variety of string and solo synth lines feeding off the melody, that rides along with Carlock’s laid-back groove. Mr White Willow is of course no slouch on six-strings, so this is not a guitar-free zone by any means, but the keyboards lead the charge.

The Night Owl is not a Gerry Rafferty cover, before you start googling! Its one of two tracks not featuring live drums, and like February 9th that crops up a couple of songs later, it features a stripped back line-up of Stian Larsen and Jacob Holm-Lupo. The space and the occasionally desolate arrangement adds a unique dimension to The Night Owl, which quickly became my favourite piece on the album. The simplicity and direct emotion pours out of the speakers.

Siriusly is the only track to feature live vocals, with wordless backing vox supplied by Ina Aurelia, mixed in with synth lines. A short, warm reggae section drops surprisingly in the middle of the song, before giving way to more inventive guitar and synth interplay. There is real value for money in this track – with a jazz-funk section, then moving to a fusion section after taking a reggae detour. Its some journey, with the main melody staying with you long after the song ends.

February 9th cuts the arrangement back to the bare minimum, with Larsen’s mournful, echoing guitar lines atop Holm-Lupo’s deep electric piano and atmospherics.

The Creeper gives off strong Herbie Hancock vibes, with Stian Larsen’s jazz chops in full, majestic flow. This song has a post-midnight, inner-city feel that sends chills when heard loud and through headphones. Featuring classy Rhodes from Holm-Lupo, the album heads to its climax as The Creeper ushers in Hamada, with rhythmic guitars and bell-tree percussion, and one of the most progressive performances on the album.

Hamada is a fitting end to a wonderful album, that reveals surprising new layers after each play, which is always a sign of longevity in music.

Pre-order the Solstein album from Jacob Holm-Lupo’s online store

Pre-order the Solstein album on vinyl from Amazon UK
Pre-order the Solstein album on CD from Amazon UK

Solstein album cover

Intersection (Holm-Lupo/Larsen/Carlock)
Oriental Folk Song (Wayne Shorter)
Southwester (Holm-Lupo/Carlock/Dambo)
The Night Owl (Holm-Lupo/Larsen)
Siriusly (Holm-Lupo/Larsen/Carlock/Dambo)
February 9th (Holm-Lupo/Larsen)
The Creeper (Holm-Lupo/Larsen/Carlock)
Hamada (Holm-Lupo/Larsen/Carlock/Bressler)



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