Punkt Festival 2010
For the past couple years, Punkt has been creating double bills of artists that compare and contrast. An acoustic solo set by singer Sidsel Endresen, for example, was paired with a more expansively electronic set from Maja Ratkje. The idea of pairing guitarists Stian Westerhus (in duet with Endresen) and Knut Reirsrud only served to demonstrate how remarkable each was: one, a masterful student of tradition; the other an intentionally irreverent dispenser of all orthodoxy.
Westerhus and Endresen have only begun collaborating recently, but their performance at Molde Jazz Festival, earlier this summer, was a clear shot across the bow; an announcement of a new improvising duo capable of great extremes...and, occasionally, even greater beauty.
From left: Stian Westerhus, Knut Reiersrud
The duo's set at Punkt was, by necessity, shorter than their Molde show, but demonstrated just how far Westerhus and Endresen have come in just a couple of months. Westerhusas usual, with a number of large amplifiers and a pedal setup so complex that it made his absolute command of it all the more incrediblecreated sonic landscapes of jagged, angular beauty, using a regular Gibson hollow body electric and a Dan Electro electric baritone guitar. Endresen, seated way across the stage, may have been distanced physically, but her connection with Westerhus on an instinctive musical level was even more profound than it was at Molde. Her ability to vocalize sounds that really shouldn't be possible with the human voice was pushed to its limits by Westerhus, whose ability to pull otherworldly sounds out of his rig was equally unexpected, unpredictable and unrelenting.
The two found ways to twist and turneach taking cues from the other; pushing and pulling; and giving and taking. Brief solo spots allowed each to drive the improvisation in a new direction, the sum total being an exhilarating example of focused improvisation at its best. But what was most important about the set was the degree of risk-taking going on; this duo is all about chance, but here, with more time spent performing together, they were continually out on the precipice, leaning over into the abyss so far that it was only due to their inherent control that they never actual took the plunge.
Westerhus is clearly the new "enfant terrible" of the guitar, a position supported by his recently released solo record, Pitch Black Star Spangled (Rune Grammofon, 2010); Reiersrud may be a less-known entity, but on the strength of his recent Gitar (Jazzland, 2010) alone, he's an artist deserving of far greater recognition. More conventional, yes; but with a command of his instrument that has allowed him to fit within a multiplicity of musical contexts.
Gitar is a roots-based record, with much to compare it to the soundtrack work of American musical archivist and Buena Vista Social Club (Nonesuch, 1997) creator, Ry Cooder. Some of the darker pieces on the album are reminiscent of Cooder's soundtrack to Wim Wenders' 1984 classic, Paris, Texas, and Reiersruddressed in a funky suit, with a red fedora blocking his face much of the timeopened his short set with an acoustic slide guitar solo piece redolent of that same space. Unlike Cooder, however, and more like his fellow Norwegians, Reiersrud also made judicious use of looping to create a larger landscape for his virtuosic playing.
Reiersrud's roots credibility and sheer comfort onstage became even more evident when he delivered a soft, heartfelt and blues-drenched version of "She's Got the Whole World in Her Hands." A more sophisticated player than Cooder, Reiersrud used alternative tunings, capos and other devices to deliver a set that packed a lot into a short space. A remarkably lithe right handwhether flat-picking, finger-picking or bowing his acoustic guitar to create orchestral breadthwas matched by a left hand that moved around the neck with the kind of comfort that only comes from years of practice and performance. Relaxed, even when he was playing at lightning speed on material that combined blues roots with Norwegian folk traditionalism, it was a perfect contrast to Westerhus and Endresen's set. The duo may have proved the value of dispensing with convention, but Reiersrud demonstrated that, in the right hands, there's nothing constraining about working within it, either.
When Jan Bang invited J.A. Deane to remix the Westerhus and Endresen/Reiersrud double concert, the American live sampler knew nothing of either artist, nor was he familiar with trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær; when Deane made his first Punkt appearance in 2009, it was the first year, since the festival's inception, that Molvær was absent. As of that afternoon, in fact, the decision to ask Molvær to participate had yet to be made. All of which meant that this remix represented the best of Punkt: the bringing together of musicians previously unfamiliar with each other, based on the intuitive feeling, by Bang and/or Honoré, that it would be an inspired combination.
From left: Nils Petter Molvær, J.A. Deane
It was. Most Live Remixes of double concerts look for ways to use both sets, but usually as separate entities. All the more remarkable, then, that Deane heard a connection between two performances that, on the surface, could not have been more different: Westerhus and Endresen completely spontaneous, unconventional and edgy; Reiersrud all about working within structure and tradition. And yet, Deane heard points of confluence in the two sets, and in his remix actually brought Westerhus and Reiersrud together for a virtual duo set that might have been.
Combining Reiersrud's rootsy altered tunings and Westerhus' complete rejection of such devices, Deane created shifting landscapes, over which Molvær judiciously layered his own distinctive lyricism. Without any of his usual devices, Molvær was left to his own acoustic tone and some pure, unaffected melodic ideas. Although it was Molvær who introduced Arve Henriksen to shakuhachi recordings, and the beginning of a search for a new sound for the younger trumpeter, the influence of the Japanese end- blown wooden or bamboo flute on Molvær remains clear and unmistakable; still, his sound remains his own, with a tarter edge, even when his lines approach near-vocal expressiveness. Listening intently to Deane's gradually evolving soundscape, Molvær's discretion was as impressive as the notes he played, as he listened intently for just the right moment.
How a Live Remix begins and how it ends is, perhaps, one of its most challenging aspects: how to know, amongst a group of players, that the time is up and it's time to wrap things up. As Deane began to sample Molvær, and layer his own lines beneath the trumpeter, it was this mix of in-the-moment playing with fragments from the main theater performance that led inevitably to a logical conclusion, as Deane slowly faded to black, and Molvær created a definitive ending with a very spare, very simple descending line that brought the remix to a perfect end.