A Tonic for the Troops is the quartet of Norwegian bass player Ellen Brekken, known from the trios of guitarist Hedvig Mollestad and pianist Tord Gustavsen, and «Ambush» is her debut album of hers as a bandleader and composer. The title of the album originated in an old British saying from the colonial times in India, where tonic was drunk to keep the malaria mosquito away and it did, according to Churchill, «save more lives than all British doctors». This saying also inspired the title of the second album of Boomtown Rats from 1978.
Brekken’s composing and playing echoes some of the most influential American double bass players – Ray Brown, Charlie Mingus and Scott LaFaro, but incorporates ideas from both sides of the Atlantic. Her compositions are charged with tons of rhythmic energy and are played with musicians with sharp rhythmic sensibility – pianist Espen Berg, known as the leader of his trio and from Hildegunn Øiseth quartet, sax player Magnus Bakken, who leads the fusion NinjaBeat band, and drummer Magnus Sefaniassen Eide.
The eight pieces offer different modes of rhythmic patterns within straight ahead, melodic jazz themes. The percolating and hard-swinging opening piece «The Capitulation of Alexandria», and the suggestive, story-like «Blue Nile» flirt with Mediterranean motives, beautifully articulated by Bakken’s sax and expanded by Berg. The ballads, «Marc’s Lament», a possible homage to one of Brekken’s role models, bass player Marc Johnson, and «1 Welgelegen Road» highlight the sensual, lyrical touch of the quartet. «Oxford’s Suite», the title piece, «Monozygotic» and the last one, «Atlantic Crossing» focus on the energetic, playful side of A Tonic for the Troops and all highlight the driving force of Brekken and Sefaniassen Eide, and the strong rhythmic sensibility of all four musicians, individually and as a tight collective.
No doubt, the tonic served by Brekken’s troops was filled with positive, optimistic energy that encourages strong individual performances.
Ellen Brekken (b), Espen Berg (p), Magnus Bakken (s), Magnus Sefaniassen Eide (dr)