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Speaks the Riddle of Undisputed Truth by Sphinx

Sphinx is a Norwegian band that demands attention. The photos on their album, "The Riddle of Undisputed Truth," are alarming. It shows the faces of the band members are slightly obstructed by their instruments. Their eyes are disembodied and appear on the instruments. Their music is initially familiar, but the second half of the album is compelling and strange much like the photos.

On ‘Disconsonant,’ tenor saxophonist Anders Lonne Gronseth guides a tour in which the initial three minutes are soft and expansive. His golden hue of his tone is comforting. But, thereafter, the music becomes increasing astringent and razor-sharp producing an unyielding glare. Pianist Dave Skinner then plays a crystal clear solo which feels like a safe haven. By the end, Gronseth solos by providing a soulful Coltranesque conclusion.

‘Uncle Bob’ continues this Coltrane-themed music with a dominating rhythm section composed of bassist Audun Ellingsen and drummer Ulrik Ibsen Thorsrud. Again, the initial reassuring melody and the hard-driven rhythm break down into a panorama of dissonance. The internal structured pattern breaks down and chaos begins to reign. Predictably, Gronseth provides a heartening conclusion.

‘Far Corner’ is a ballad that is generally played tenderly and straightforwardly, while in contrast ‘The Undisputed Truth’ has touches of humor with ecstatic dances provided by Gronseth and introspective twists and turns created by Skinner. Gronseth takes a brilliant pair of extended solos on the introspective ‘My Reminiscence.’ The Coltrane band of about forty years ago seems to have been successfully resurrected but mutated.

On the latter part of the album, the twenty minute ‘Digressions Suite’ turns out to be the most interesting, but perhaps the most disturbing of the pieces. It is like a Philip K. Dick story that is twisted in terms of trying to disrupt your logical perspective. Like one of his tales, you think you know where you are, but soon the solid ground imperceptibly shifts and you have trouble keeping your sense of balance as you struggle to walk a straight line. At the same time, it feels like you are in an interior maze and are trying to escape with your sanity intact. Some of the antiseptic corridors you try turn out to be blind alleys. Some times you see only mirrors. Near the end, you feel that there is a way out of this asylum. But at the same time, there is a nagging and ominous feel that you are being manipulated. This science-fiction quality is aptly arranged and performed by Sphinx. The puppet-master is pulling the strings of your mind.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Sphinx
  • CD Title: Speaks the Riddle of Undisputed Truth
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: Acoustic Records
  • Tracks: Disconsonant, Uncle Bob, Far Corner, The Undisputed Truth, My Reminiscence, Digressions Suite
  • Musicians: Anders Lonnie Gronseth (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), Dave Skinner (piano), Audun Ellingsen (double bass), Ulrik Ibsen Thorsrud (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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