Thor de Force – Sounds of the Mansion [2019 Ropeadope]
While there’s a plenty of musicians naming a Miles Davis album as their life changing experience, few of them pick in the 80s pop fusion era. Whether it was for Davis explored the contamination with commercial music during the 80s or it’s due to his songs going towards a ‘different’ harmonic and thematic complexity, still this decade is less popular in musicians’ memoirs. Chicago born and Copenhagen based guitarist and producer Thor Madsen indicates the Grammy award winning, 1982 release We Want Miles as his life changing experience, since when his brother lent a copy to him. Song themes reduced to the core, often stripped to the bone, and vamps overheated in glossy synth layers, that was the perfect manifesto of Miles Davis‘s fusion explorations to come later in the decade. Davis entered in the pop domain bringing in his very distinctive vision, overturning the compromise and embarking in adventurous explorations, and Madsen sticks to the maestro’s ground rule. His Sounds of the Mansion is a proud collection of tunes that look at jazz, hip-hop, dancefloor techno and electronic music and yet are pervaded by a sense of opening up new horizons. Deceiving the casual listener with hooks, beats in four and familiar patterns, Thor Madsen builds indeed a mindful electrojazz journey.
Thor Madsen has released multiple tracks in last ten years under the name of Thor de Force -a moniker inspired by writer John Farris that easily sums up what Madsen. Exploring electro jazz and mixing it with various influences, under this name now he presents the cohesive recipe in Sounds of the Mansion. In the previous role of producer and rhythmic guitarist for multiple recordings released by New York label Nublu, he had chance to play also with two European heavyweights of the electro jazz scene like Bugge Wesseltfot and Erik Truffaz. To add to his wide palette of musical colors venturies in ethnic music, notably his work with Ragajazz, contemporary jazz, playing with saxophonist Lars Möller, afrobeat, brazilian and even hip hop styles in the past. The album is a full attempt to really do my own music, my own style, my own story -says Madsen in the press notes. And about Sounds of the Mansion, released on Ropeadope, he adds: there is a little of everything I like in it. I have tried to create an open kind of music where all the things that inspire me can coexist and feed off each other, in a possibly vain attempt to reconcile everything I love.
A playful bip theme plays with a clapped funky feel until a straight-four rhythm -something that reminds a soothing Boards of Canada intro- enters in the first seconds of the opening As Fat As. But it’s the twisted, bluesy riff, played by organ and guitar, to grab the attention at the one minute and ten seconds mark -what a smart break! He wields a mixture of juicy guitars, unexpected synth layers and a groovy drumming that are so playfully mixed to force the listener moving at the toe tapping rhythm and smiling for each unexpected turns of the song. Buddha Boost is an electrojazz dancefloor that could have easily come out from a Bugge Wesseltoft‘s New Conception of Jazz album. Don’t get deceived by the apparently easy intro of The Sky from Hear: Abdullah S has to fight hard to keep the groove through the riddle of accents built by the multitude of rhythmic layers. A motley group of resources that encompass a pleasant acid jazz beat, spiced up with latin influences, octave solos on guitar and organ layers calling some 70s pre-fusion explorations.
A 90s minimal techno beat at the start of Dirty Flirt seamlessly changes in a contemporary hip hop, showing again how Thor de Force masterfully dominates arranging. The track evolves in a mysterious progression of descending chords that eventually leans towards a sort of dub. Every track in this album seems to incorporate a degree of unpredictability and to balance multilayered arrangements with improvisatory practices in a masterful way.
A 70s acid jazz rhythm is soon to break in a theme played by a fat and smirking synth before a lush dancefloor section: Hooklaced would perfectly link up with any John Scofield‘s Uberjam album from the previous decade. Another acid jazz theme, this time opening Stomping Ground, is getting the attention with unpredictable rhythmic twists and arrangements pleasures, starting from the juicy sound of guitar’s harmonics plucked together with piano. This track is the perfect example of what Sounds from the Mansion is: the car is driving over a familiar road, yet through unexpected turns each time. After a break at 2 minutes and 10 seconds mark the track comes back to life: piano plays some delicious fragments and a smooth guitar answers, keeping the listener always very attentive to what’s happening.
Sounds of the Mansion is an hide and seek game, from the listening point of view: Thor de Force is always letting the listener believe she or he knows exactly what’s going to happen, but then the driver steers in another direction. A record that is a refinement of Madsen‘s skills in combining masterfully crafted arrangements and a sense of improvisation that pervades even the most intricate sections and creative hooks: the outcome is a juicy and explorative electro jazz work.
Thor de Force
Sounds of the Mansion
1. As Fast As
2. Buddha Boots
3. The Sky From Hear
4. Dirty Flirt
6. The Gate
7. Stomping Ground
8. Stole Your Genius
9. Chir Batti
10. Turbulent Table
11. The Swamp
Composed, produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Thor Madsen at
Mazza Mansion, Copenhagen
Drums and percussion on track 3 recorded at Puma Studios, Copenhagen
Thor Madsen: Guitar / Bass / Synths / Piano / Wurlitzer / Percussion / Programming
Abdullah S: Drums on tracks 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 10 / Percussion on tracks 3 & 6 / Keyboard solo track on track 7 / Keys on tracks 1 & 3 / Vocal Sample and Claps on track 1