The burning rainbow and Norse bridge to the afterlife - "Bifrost" is an especially apt title for guitarist John Moulder's new release given the musician's spiritual nature (he is, after all, a Catholic priest) and also due to the fact that Norweigian musicians Arild Andersen (acoustic bass) and Bendik Hofseth (tenor sax) play prominent roles. Andersen is well known for his work beginning with Jan Garabeck in the 1960s and as a leading light in European jazz, having released several albums as a leader on the ECM label over the decades. Hofseth meanwhile, is most famous in the U.S. for replacing Michael Brecker in the seminal '70s fusion band Steps Ahead, when, as legend has it, he sent a demo tape to Mike Maineri while still a student. The presence of these two veterans, along with longtime associate Paul Wertico on drums shows the respect that Moulder commands for his mastery of his instrument. Electric fretless bassist and programmer Brian Peters rounds out this fine assembly, while also engineering, mixing and serving as producer.
As to be expected, some of the music is placid and otherworldly (with a noticeable undercurrent of questioning and angst), enhanced by Moulder's melodic acoustic guitar work (both on six and 12-string), but have no fear - the man brings the fire when necessary - creating burning solos that prove again that the kind and mild mannered gentleman can shred with the best of them. Hofseth also adds skillful sax solos that captivate, while working well within the framework. The opening title track is a perfect example: it starts off with Moulder's chiming guitars and the rhythm section setting the stage for Hofseth to take the melody and the first solo. Then Moulder enters with a twisting solo that ascends like smoke in the air. The band navigates Moulder's shifting time signatures (11/4 in alternating 5/4 & 6/4 and 6/4 & 5/4 counts) with abandon. Later Andersen's lovely bass solo introduces the haunting "Magical Spaces" while "Echoes of Home" and "Watch Your Step" tread some of the same Americana territory Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell travel, albeit with a European flavor that gives the music a different and quite intriguing dimension.
The "Cold Sea Tryptych" centerpiece seems to musically evoke the loneliness of humanity in the face of the mysteries of the universe as represented by a deep, cold and overwhelming ocean, with Hofesth's sax playing the part of a screaming seabird in the opening section. Moulder's guitars navigate the fragile boat through the stormy seas (Wertico's cymbals as the crashing waves), but the finale is anything but reassuring - instead it is a chilling and achingly austere sense of awe. In the aftermath, the album ending 15:18 "Time Being" features some of Moulder's (and the group's) best playing. His sublime electric solo is proof that guitarists can tear it up, while still playing with intelligence and feeling, while Hofseth and Andersen reply in kind. Wertico takes a solo spot that builds like an unstoppable force of nature and leads into Moulder's distorted screaming guitar. An excellent recording from one of the finest guitarists working today.