Molde International Jazz Festival 2013
July 15-20, 2013
It may have been his last year as festival director, but Jan Ole Otnæs sure went out on a high, not just because his programming was as impeccable as ever, but because he made it a year with a very specific philosophy. In past years, the festival's artists in residence have included such prestigious names as Arve Henriksen, Nils Petter Molvaer and Dave Holland, but with this year's choice, pianist Jason Moran, Otnæs made it clear that the dividing line so often drawn between jazz in America and Europe is nothing but artifice.
Of course, this is not a particularly new concept; one need only look at labels like ECM, Hatology and Pirouet to see that there is plenty of interaction between artists from both sides of the Atlantic (and even further abroad, for that matter), but with Moran's program a near-perfect blend of collaborations with American artists and others from Norway and Sweden, the 2013 Molde Jazz Festival was a celebration of jazz as a unifying formone of inclusion, rather than exclusion.
Moran's six shows included two longstanding partnerships: the first, with saxophonist Charles Lloyd, with whom the pianist performed a sublime duo concert to celebrate their 2013 ECM recording, Hagar's Song, at the 2013 Montreal Jazz Festival just a couple weeks prior; the second, with his longstanding Bandwagon group, featuring bassist Taurus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. Moran opened the festival with his In My Mind project (devoted to the music of Thelonious Monk), expanding his Bandwagon trio to an octet with the addition of five Norwegian brass players, proving there are plenty of Nordic players conversant with the American tradition while, at the same time, bringing their own culture to the mix. Moran also teamed with Andratx, a Scandinavian group stemming from Denmark, Sweden and Norway, while a much anticipated duo with live sampler/Punkt Festival Co-Artist Director Jan Bang met and exceededall possible expectations. It's rare that a show lives up to its hype, but this was one case where it actually did.
Beyond Moran's residence, which also included a closing show at the town's church with his wife, singer Alicia Hall Moran, the festival once again presented a diversity rich program, ranging from young guitar firebrand Hedvig Molestad's hard-rocking instrumental trio to the premiere of drummer Paal Nilssen-Love's aptly titled Large Unit. Guitar hero Stian Westerhus debuted his ear-shattering new group, Pale Horse, while the gentle, Big Sur project from another guitar hero, Bill Frisell, was in rich contrast to another premiere, this time from the guitarist at the core of so many young Norwegian six-stringers, Terje Rypdal. The ever-exploratory Albatrosh duo delivered its first performance of a new suite of music with the renowned Trondheim Jazz Orchestra while, a couple of days later, guitar power trio Bushman's Revenge took a step forward by inviting violinist Ola Kvernberg (who seemed to be everywhere at the festival) and saxophonist Kjetil Møster, and pianist Maria Kannegaard delivered just the second performance of a transportive work for a newly forged sextet, bringing together a virtual supergroup of Norwegian musicians from across the generations.
Beyond the festival itself, a group of 25 delegates, ranging from journalists to club owners and festival presenters, and hailing from countries as nearby as Sweden and Denmark and as far away as Canada, the United States, Japan, Hungary and Germany, were invited to participate in a new initiative, organized by Music Norway, the recently merged organization replacing Music Export Norway with Music Information Center Norway. An extrapolation of Silver City Sounds, which took place for a number of years at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival, the Molde Jazz Expo was created out of the desire to make that event intended to introduce its invitees to Norwegian culture and music, with special trips included to allow folks to see some of the surrounding countrysideless festival- dependent. This year it was in Molde; next year it could easily be held elsewhere.
Running the inaugural; Jazz Expo in Molde for the final year of Otnæs' 13-year run was certainly a great idea, but not just for the festival; surrounded by 222 mountains, Molde is truly one of Norway's most beautiful locales, the town of 24,000 situated on a large fjord about 25 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean...and a short drive from the award- winning Atlantic Road, which was the destination for the group on one of the Expo's three days. That the weather was less than cooperativeraining most of the time, with only the occasional (and temporary) breakthrough of sundid not ruin the natural beauty, though it was unfortunate that less of the surrounding mountain-scapes were visible; on a clearer day, every time a cloud breaks there's a new mountain to be seen, something that makes the festival not just a great destination for music, but for its natural beauty as well.
A few of the attendees decided to stay for the entire run of the festival, and it was well worth it, inclement weather notwithstanding. Beyond the specific meaning of Jason Moran's six-day residency, there wasn't a single day at Molde Jazz Festival where there wasn't something to commandand demandattention. With Otnæs heading to Oslo to run the city's Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria, the mantle of Molde festival director has been handed over to Anders Eriksson, trumpeter for Ensemble Denada, but also the man responsible for booking the group's tours and acting as road manager, amongst other administrative details. Hiring a professional musician with such skills means that Molde International Jazz Festival remains in good hands, though it will be interesting to see just how Eriksson stamps a festival that's been so strongly defined by Otnæs for the past thirteen years.
July 15: Jason Moran In My Mind / Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Albatrosh
A little disclosure: having seen Jason Moran as early as 1998, when he was part of saxophonist Greg Osby's group with vibraphonist Stefon Harris and bassist Taurus Mateen, the feeling has long been that, as talented as the pianist has been, he's invariably been stronger as a sideman to musicians like Osby, Paul Motian and, in particular, Charles Lloyd, rather than as a leader, despite his Bandwagon trio being around for more than a decade now, winning awards and garnering general critical and popular acclaim. However, after hearing the pianist in so many different contexts during his Molde residency, it was clearly time to reassess. Looking back at his discography as the week progressed, such thinking revealed itself as not just unfair but untrue. The pianist's shows throughout the week covering a wide variety of contexts that were truly eye- and ear-opening.
Moran has been performing his In My Mind show for quite a few years now, dating as far back as 2005. Using Bandwagon as the core, Moran picks up local musicians to flesh out a five-piece horn section, and he couldn't have found a better group than alto saxophonist Frode Nymo and tenor saxophonist Atle Nymo (both of Ensemble Denada and many other projects); trumpeter Kåre Nymark; trombonist Kristoffer Kompen (who won an award just a couple years ago at the Oslo Jazz Festival); and tubaist Daniel Herskedal, whose recordings with saxophonist Marius Neset and guitarist Christian Bluhme Hansen have already begun to redefine the role of his unwieldy instrument.
With a projection screen behind the group, Moran entered the stage alone, put on a pair of headphones and began to play along with a Thelonious Monk recording. Soon after, Bandwagon plus Moran's Norwegian recruits came onstage and played the tune a second time, but this time with the kind of commitment and energy that belied this group only rehearsing for a couple of days prior to the performance.
Mateen's solution to increased travel problems with a large double bass was to use the custom-build acoustic bass guitar that a Spanish luthier designed and built for him in the mid-'90sand which the bassist has used almost exclusively ever sinceon recordings as well as in performance. What distinguishes this instrument from typical electric bass guitars with a hollow body is that his instrument sounds uncannily like a double bass; sure, there are differences, but it was remarkable just how closely Mateen's instrument was able to emulate the deep, woody tone of a double bass on an instrument that could easily fit in the overhead compartment of an airplane.
Moran's multimedia performance was a mix of music, spoken word, old recordings, autobiographical information and, at its core, the pianist's clear love of Monkthe man and the musician. "If there was a point after being born that changed my life," his voice spoke over the sound system, "it was hearing Monk." And as Moran moved through the set, taking Monk's music into the 21st century with a kind of freedom that Monk never envisaged, it became obvious just how significant a touchstone the legendary pianist/composer has been for the younger pianist.
A particularly powerful moment occurred when Waits, taking a mid-set solo, punctuated the story of Monk's encounter with police, his snare drum shots matching the sharp cracks of the pianist's hands being beaten. But, as the musicians who had left the stage for this segment (including Moran) returned to the stage, rather than taking their places behind their instruments, they sat on the floor of the stage, watching the video screen as a series of quotes passed by that gave the impression of being at a Monk rehearsal.
As the show neared its end, the phrase "In My Mind" began to repeat, as onstage cameras began to mesh the live performance with the pre-recorded video; just as it seemed the concert was over, however, the group began to play "Crepuscule with Nellie," bringing the full house at Bjørnsenhuset to its feet, clapping its hands and, as the band left the stage (the horn players still with their instruments, Herskedal switching to euphonium), walking past the front row, a line was formed, following Moran and his group out into the Bjørnsenhuset lobby, where the music continued for a good 10 minutes before finally coming to an end.
It was a powerful first performance that set the tone for the whole week, as Moran made clear, in the most immediate way possible that for him, there is no dividing line when it comes to music. The tradition at the core of Bandwagon may be thousands of miles away from the Norwegian horn section that augmented it, but on this night, it was clear that this music was a part of everyone's past.
Having last visited Molde in 2010, it was great to see that what was then a hole in the ground with a lot of construction equipment was now the town's beautiful new Plassen, with two performance spaces, a library, administrative offices and more. The larger of the two rooms at Plassen, the Teatret Vårt Konsert, was especially impressive in the way that the rows of seating could be easily (and automatically) pulled back against the rear wall to turn the venue into a standing-room space, with an overhead balcony providing seating for, perhaps, another 25-30 people (seated).
It was also great to see just how far Albatroshthe duo with pianist Eyolf Dale and tenor saxophonist André Rolighetenhas come since first encountering them as part of a JazzNorway in a Nutshell showcase in Rosendahl, when the two young players were still in school and yet to record their first album, Seagull Island (Inner Ear, 2009). While Albatrosh's latest, Yonkers (Rune Grammofon, 2012), was a return to the duo format of its debut, Mystery Orchestra with Grenager and Talfjord (Inner Ear, 2010) provided a hint of what was to come when the duo collaborated with Trondheim Jazz Orchestra for its 2013 Molde Jazz Festival performance.
Mystery Orchestra cellist Lene Grenager and hornist Holde Sofie Talfjordone-half of the improvising unit Spunk, along with sonic explorer/vocalist Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje and woodwind multi-instrumentalist Kristin Andersenwere also on-hand for the Molde performance, alongside TJO regulars including trumpeters Eivind Lønning (back after a cross- Canada festival tour with pianist Christian Wallumrød's Ensemble) and Hayden Powell, saxophonists Sissel Vera Pettersen and Eirik Hegdal, clarinetist Morten Barrikmo, Jaga Jazzist trombonist Erik Johannessen, PELbO tubaist Kristoffer Lo, violinist Ola Kvernberg (in his first of three appearances this week), in-demand bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Tor Haugerud. On hand, as well, was Andreas Paleologos, who created in-the-moment drawings on a projection screen behind the group.
The music capitalized on the deep chemistry Dale and Roligheten have built over the past few years, and a language predicated on the saxophonist's extended techniques that included softly articulated multiphonics and a variety of percussive textures. Expanded and orchestrated for the TJO, Albatrosh's music was able to do things that it could often only imply as a duo, combining its intrinsic intimacy with a much broader palette. For one thing, some of this music actually groovedat one point, swinging, evenwhile Roligheten was able to combine his extended sonics with those, in particular, of Lønning, whose experience in the duo Streifenjunko with saxophonist Espen Reintertsen explores similar territory. Rolgheten and Lønnning forged a particularly lovely trio with Lo on the third piece of the set, creating a gentle, warm ambiance that somehow managed to seamlessly come together as a single voice.
Knotty melodies, stop/start time and lush harmonies that made full use of the 12-piece TJOand, at times, Pettersen, who occasionally put down her saxophone to sing wordless vocals to add yet another color to the groupas Albatrosh also provided feature opportunities for everyone in the ensemble but, of particular note, those from Johannessen and Kvernberg, who both seemed capable of just about anything. As the suite of music drew to a close with Dale's gently dark, majestic playing and the horns softly swirling around him, the audience rose to its feet to give the group a well- deserved ovation. Whether or not this music is performed again, one thing is certain: a recording of this music isn't just wanted, it's needed.
July 16: Bill Frisell Big Sur Quartet / Stian Westerhus & Pale Horses
While a daytime trip, by boat and bus, to the Atlantic Roadand pre-lunch speeches from saxophonist/NORCD label head Karl Seglem (who also gave a couple of impromptu goat horn performances on the boat), Norsk Jazzforum's Øyvind Skjerven Larsen, and Trondheim jazz conservatory head Erling Aksdal (who shed some intriguing light on just how this world-famous school manages to turn out so many musicians with fresh and distinct voices), along with a too-brief solo performance from drummer Gard Nilssen (a member of numerous groups but appearing twice at Molde, with Bushman's Revenge and Obara International Quartet)sadly meant missing Tim Berne's performance with his superb Snakeoil quartet, two performances later that evening demonstrated the festival's sheer diversity.
First up, guitarist Bill Frisell brought the group responsible for his recent Big Sur (Okeh, 2013): violinist Jenny Scheinman; violist Eyvind Kang; cellist Hank Roberts; and drummer Stian Westerhus has, while remaining as unorthodox and extreme as ever, also begun turning towards moments of greater beauty. The Norwegian guitarist has, since returning to his home country after five years in London, become one of the country's busiest musicians, largely in improvising contexts like Monolithic, Puma, the trio he recently left with trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær and drummer Erland Dahlen, and his ever-surprising duo with singer Sidsel Endresen. So, there's been considerable buzz around his new group, Pale Horses, which brings together Dahlen and Puma/Jaga Jazzist keyboardist Øystein Moen.
Some of the buzz has been because, for the first time, Westerhus has put together a group predicated on actual written music, but it's also been anticipated as it also represents a first for Westerhus: singing. And so, a couple hours after Frisell left the stage of Plassen's Teatret Vårt Konsert, the chairs were gone and a packed standing room crowd eagerly waited for Westerhus & Pale Horses to hit the stage. Unfortunately, while the trio demonstrated plenty of promise, this first live appearance was fraught with sound problemsfor the most part, the sound coming off the stage possessing little clear definition, which was unfortunate as all three players are so distinctive, both individually and collectively.
A conversation with Moen the day after the show also revealed that its set only represented about one-third of the music the group had rehearsed; perhaps it would have been a better show had there been less expansion of the music and a little more concision. Westerhus' voice occupied an upper register, making the overall drone-like complexion of the music somewhat akin to Iceland's Sigur Rós, but with sharper teeth; still, the set was too monolithic (no pun intended) in nature, for the most part occupying a single dynamic space with the exception of one brief moment where, with the lights a deep red, Westerhus stood alone, bowing his guitar and creating the set's most beautiful moment. A little more breadth of dynamics, a lot more definition in the sound and a bit more distinction in the material will go a long way to making Pale Horses the group that its Molde debut clearly promised. Still, there's a huge difference between rehearsal spaces and live venues, and if this group's first show lacked in any way, the knowledge of who its members are and of what they're capable suggests that it's a group well worth following: more, and most certainly better, is sure to come.
July 17: Jason Moran & Bandwagon / Terje Rypdal The Sound of Dreams / Bushman's Revenge
For Jason Moran's third show as part of his week-long residency, he delivered an afternoon set with his longstanding Bandwagon triobassist Taurus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waitsthat focused largely on music by or inspired by Fats Waller, another of the pianist's major touchstones. Like his In My Mind performance of two nights previous, recordings were, at times, part of the set as an interview with Waller, where the pianist concludes by saying "Swing will always be here, forever and a day" acted as a rhythmic motif to drive the trio into its second tune, following a fast, swinging opener. Moran's lengthy solo pushed the entire trio into a space of near- complete freedom, but there was clearly always an eye on the underlying structure, a gospel-tinged segment that began soft and grooving, but ultimately opened up to greater turbulence, bolstered by Waits' maelstrom-like approach that still never lost sight of the groove, as it gradually returned to its gentler conclusion.
A player rivaled only by Craig Taborn in his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz history, Moran proved similarly open-minded, his relaxed personality imbuing his performance throughout the set. Mateen opened the third tune a cappella, but with a line that caused both the bassist and Moran to break out laughing; after a brief pause to regain his composure, Mateen picked things back up, in what was a largely continuous set.
That relaxed sense of playfulness defined the entire set. At one point, a recording of some delta blues slide guitar began as Moran said, "And now for some real blues," returning to the stage a few moments later with a set of shakers that he began to play near the piano mics as Waits took a solo that revolved around a second line rhythm, the trio coming back in for a tune based on a single motivic idea that was deconstructed and then reconstructed into something that epitomized why Bandwagon has remained together for so long: the looks around the stage made clear that there was as much surprise, amongst the musicians, as there was in the audience.
A few hours later in the same venue (Plassen's Teatret Vårt Konsert), Terje Rypdal premiered a new piece, commissioned by the festival. Titled The Sound of Dreams, it expanded his longstanding Skywards Trio of keyboardist Ståle Storløkken (Supersilent, Humcrush, Elephant9 and drummer Paolo Vinaccia (Arild Andersen Trio) with an additional drummer (Jon Christensen), a bassoonist (James Lassen) and the guitarist's son, Marius, on electronics. Sveinung Hovensjo was also scheduled to perform, but a sudden (and serious) illness put the bassist in hospital (thankfully, now on the mend), forcing the group to make some adjustments to the music (literally pulling a couple pages, according to Lassen) and Rypdal to contribute some electric bass, in addition to his usual electric guitar.
It's unfortunate that Hovensjo was unable to make it, as it would have meant a marriage of Rypdal's legacy bands from the '70sboth Christensen and Hovensjo playing on the guitarist's early ECM recordingswith his more recent concerns. That both Rypdal and Christensen were members of "the big five" that, also including Jan Garbarek, Andersen and Bobo Stenson, literally put the region on the international jazz map through their early '70s ECM recordings, was not lost on the crowd. Not unlike Westerhus, this first live performance had its flaws, but was overall a significant success, and for a number of reasons.
First, Rypdal has never played better. His tonethat tonewas as instantly recognizable as Frisell's the previous night, and his overdriven, whammy-bar informed lines were as exhilarating as they've ever been. But beneath the rock stance, Rypdal has also divided his career between more jazz-centric recordings and work in the contemporary classical sphere, stemming from his discovery of György Ligeti in the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick's iconic film, 2001: A Space Odysseyhis most recent Melodic Warrior (ECM, 2013) finally allowing recordings nearly a decade old, with the renowned Hilliard Ensemble, to see the light of day.
While The Sound of Dreams wasn't as decidedly classical in tone, neither was it rock-inflected eitherthough Rypdal's three encores ("The Curse," "Mystery Man," and "Tough Enough," culled from across his 50-year career) demonstrated that the more Jimi Hendrixian Rypdal was still as capable as ever in that department.
It was a terrific ensemble that even found Christensen, who has long since left playing more straightforward time, slamming his snare and cymbals together with the powerful Vinacciawhose playing, for the most part, drove the set, while Christensen largely added color and texture. While an old radio recording acted as something of a rallying point during The Sound of Dreams, the music was largely atmospheric in nature, with large rubato sections.
Given that everyone else in the group had a history with Rypdalhis son Marius also appearing on his father's Vossabrygg (ECM, 2006), Lassendespite looking and, with his name, sounding distinctly Nordic but, in fact, an American who moved to Bergen 17 years ago and is currently a member of the city's symphony orchestrawas the performance's real surprise. Bassoon isn't a particularly easy instrument, and an even more difficult improvising instrument, but Rypdal's choice of the bassoon as a melodic foil for his guitar was an inspired one, and when Lassen was given some latitude, as he was during the set but especially during the encore, he proved himself a superb soloist, with terrific tone, great ideas and absolutely none of the problems that plague lesser bassoonists like Daniel Smith, of Bebop Bassoon (Zah Zah, 2006) infamy.
Storløkkenlargely working his usual gritty magic with a Hammond organprovided all kinds of textures in support of Rypdal and Lassen, as well as adapting some of Hosenvjo's parts to his bass pedals and, when given the chance, soloing with the kind of relentless invention that's made his career one where the upper limits of his talent and capacity have yet to be found. A mid-section interlude, where Vinaccia played with an old radio set up nearby onstage, provided some of the show's most comedic moments though (and the drummer agreed in conversation, after the show), in truth, they went on a little too long and could have benefited either from additional participation by others in the band (during soundcheck, when an old Italian song came up, Rypdal through his hands in the air, screaming "I love you, I love you!") or by some judicious trimming.
But, like Westerhus & Pale Horses, this was a first performance, and it's not uncommon for debuts to require a little judicious editing. But with no idea what to expect and with Rypdal playing at the top of his game, The Sound of Dreams was a performance that will absolutely go down as yet another memorable show for Molde 2013and hopefully one that will find its way to release a little more quickly than Melodic Warrior.
Since releasing its 2007 Jazzaway debut, Cowboy Musicbut especially since signing with Rune Grammofon in 2009 and releasing its label debut, You Lost Me At Hello Bushman's Revenge has evolved into one of Norway's more popular electric bands. A power trio featuring guitarist Even Helte Hermansen, electric bassist Rune Nergaard and drummer Gard Nilssen, the trio has become even better-known for its incendiary live shows, something that can finally be heard on its vinyl- and download-only live release, Electric Komle: Live! (Rune Grammofon, 2013). With six albums under its belt, what to do next?
The answer came with its midnight Molde performance, also at Teatret Vårt Konsert: invite some friends to the party and see what happens. Given those friends were violinist Ola Kvernberg (with whom Hermansen is a member of the newly formed Grand General, whose 2013 Rune Grammofon debut is one of the year's best debuts) and saxophonist Kjetil Møster (whose Edvard Lygre Møster (Hubro, 2013) is the long-awaited and red-hot recording from the quartet that first debuted in Kongsberg in 2010), it was a fair guess that what was going to happen was going to be something not just electric, but something positively nuclear.
And it was. Prior to the show, Hermansen, Møster and Kvernberg talked about being a little under-rehearsed, but other than both guests having music stands onstage (a rarity), there was no telling. And if Bushman's Revenge has evolved in one particular place it's been the writing, making its Molde show a combination of strong material and even stronger playing. For those who question the jazz cred of this high octane group, a thundering version of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" made clear that, if Bushman's Revenge and friends didn't play your daddy's or granddaddy's jazz, it had at least some connection to it.
Møsterone of the few saxophonists to be seen playing through an Ampeg stack, with plenty of foot pedals on the floor in front of himhas the benefit of great tone without all that gear, so when it's added to his tenor and baritone horns, the result is a sound that's positively massive. Kvernberg's violin may not be quite so huge, but his ability to soar over the hardest-rocking, mixed meter grooves makes him Norway's answer to Jerry Goodman. And if there were moments that, indeed, evoked memories of mid-'70s King Crimson and, in particular, Mahavishnu Orchestra Mark Ithough Hermansen's whammy bar-driven solos were a little less raw and unfettered than '70s-era John McLaughlin (but no less exciting)then Nilssen's powerhouse drumming helped complete the picture. Nilssen may play with greater subtlety in groups like Zanussi Five, but here, with a bass drum that looked like it had to be at least 24 inches in diameter, he combined thundering power with the fluidity born of experience in those other projects.
Continuing with the Mahavishnu reference, Nergaard is the quintessential background bassist, like MO's Rick Laird, anchoring everything, doing nothing visual to draw attention to himself and only rarely taking a solothough when he did take one, it was met with a huge round of applause from the packed, standing room crowd. Nilssen and Hermansen may have been the charisma, brains and brawn of Bushman's Revenge, but Nergaard was the heart. Add to that fiery power trio two soloists like Kvernberg and Møster, and the result was a late night show of riff-driven intensity that will, no doubt, be talked about for some time to come.
July 18: Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit / Take Five Europe
With the debut of Paal Nilssen-Love's Large Unit one of the most eagerly anticipated events for the lion's share of Molde Jazz Expo delegatesnot to mention many of the festival's Norwegian attendeesthe Norwegian drummer had a lot to live up to, but he more than did so with an afternoon show that, rather than simply rely on the undeniable improvisational prowess of its eleven members, also worked off the strength of Nilssen- Love's writing, which provided plenty of context around which the group could extemporize freely.
Still, it was not a show for the faint of hearttwo drummers (in addition to Nilssen-Love, Andreas Wildhagen), two bassists (Jon Rune Strom and Christian Meås Svendsen, playing both electric and acoustic variants), two saxophonists (altoist Klaus Holm and alto/baritone Kasper Værnes), trumpet (Thomas Johansson), trombone (the particularly impressive Mats Äleklint), tuba (Borre Molstad), guitar (Ketil Gutvik) and electronics (Lasse Marhaug)meant there was plenty of potential for some seriously joyful noise.
Opening with an exercise in organized chaos, the music may have, at times, felt completely and utterly freeand it wasbut there was still an underlying structure that shaped the overall context when it came time to let loose and fire on all cylinders. The set's second piece possessed a more defined groovethough, with both drummers going at it like there was no tomorrow, it was sometimes buried in a clatter of snares, cymbals, toms and bass drums.
What gave the set its contrast and diversion was how the group broke down into various subsets; nothing intrinsically new there, but with Wildhagen as capable of frenzied polyrhythms as Nilssen-Love, it allowed the leader to sit out for periods of time, and to, at times, conduct the group, albeit with far less than the grand gestures such music might suggest.
With an eleven-tet this strong, it was particularly remarkable that Äleklint stood out, but his control over multiphonics was especially impressive, as was his ability to swoop down into low guttural registers in an a cappella solo that was one of the set's highlights, leading to a similarly impressive turn from Molstad.
At the end of the day, what gave Nilssen-Love's Large Unit its voice was the writing. While the free moments seemed discernible, there were times where the group appeared to dissolve into utter chaos; but when both drummers suddenly came together with identical patterns, it became clear that not all was what it seemed, making it all the more impressiveand demandingthat a recording find its way to the world...and soon.
Having just recently reviewed a duo evening by Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran (with the addition of a first-time encounter with Bill Frisell, both in duo with the saxophonist and in trio with both Lloyd and Moran) in Montreal, full coverage of another performance a scant two weeks later seemed unnecessary. But without going into full detail, the performance the two musiciansone almost double the other's agegave in Molde was still absolutely noteworthy; perhaps because, without the addition of a third member, it was an even better pure duo set that gave Moran and Lloyd more opportunity and time with which to build their set. Lloyd was in particularly fine form; given that this show was part of Moran's residency made no difference in the music the two made, but the flow of the set was particularly strong, a transcendent series of tunes that reflected both Moran's broad-scoped knowledge and Lloyd's indomitable spirituality.
Back in January, at the end of a week of musical woodshedding and, for some, a little music-as-business force-feeding, the performances of original material at Take Five Europe were good but a little tired after a week of little sleepmore a promise of what was to come. Nearly six months later, and with a few gigs under their collective belt, the members of Take Five Europe dubbed "European Sunrise"delivered a far more impressive set at Plassen's smaller Teatret Vårt Natt (capacity: approximately 150). Trimmed down from a tentet to a nonet through the unavailable saxophonist Guillaume Perret, but further pared to an octet when trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz ran into some travel delays, the remaining eight membersbassist Per Zanussi, tubaist Daniel Herskedal, clarinetist Arun Ghosh, guitarist Chris Sharkey, trumpeter Airelle Besson, pianist Marcin Masecki, drummer Marcos Baggiani and clarinetist/saxophonist David Kweksilberstill represented the five countries (Britain, Norway, Poland, France and the Netherlands) which sponsored the educational event and helped create a series of at least five tour dates to allow the group a chance to evolve, both as a unit and as interpreters of its all-original material (one tune from each musician).
What was most impressive about the performance was just how much these eight musicians now sound like a group, rather than a collection of musicians selected to participate in Take Five Europe as players with careers established, but looking for ways to get to the next level. With the impressive and powerful Damasiewicz absent, it may have also worked to Besson's advantage, giving her greater opportunity to shine on her own; and while Kweksilber didn't need the absence of Perret to stand out, he did nevertheless, especially in the set's closing tune where he played with more fire than in Kent back in January, letting loose a series of John Zorn-like squeals in the upper register while Ghosh, the most visually animated and consequently charismatic performer, swooped and swirled in, out and around him. Masecki was hard to see, with his piano facing towards the rear of the stage as this was a group too large for the venue's small stage (another of the many experiences Take Five Europe helps its participants learn how to overcome), but his contributions were not, as he led the group, early on, through his own compositionstanding and playing two pieces of tuned percussion rather than piano.
In his second performance of the week, Herskedal, too, impressed, in particular during his own composition, where an a cappella intro combined electronics and extended techniques to create something distinctly un-tuba-like, while Sharkey's southpaw creation of shimmering arpeggios and harder-edged lines early in the set were still a surprise to those familiar with his work in trioVD and, more recently, The Geordie Approach. Zanussi and Baggiani kept the engine stoked while, at the same time, responding to their musical partners and, as was most clearly seen in the after-show, friends as well. It was clear that the group had applied many of the lessons learned at Take Five Europe, most notably in its maintaining of the pace of the set and delivering introductions (because it was in Norway, from Zanussi and Herskedal) that were concise and to the point.
July 19: Jason Moran & Jan Bang / Obara International
With the majority of Molde Jazz Expo delegates gone, if the weather didn't exactly improve significantly, there was at least some improvementbrief periods of sun, even, that allowed the natural beauty of the surrounding area to emerge more clearly, though wind and rain were rarely far behind.
This was all the more reason to stay indoors and catch one of the most anticipated of Jason Moran's residency performances, and a new group teaming two Poles with two Norwegians for a group already generating considerable buzz.
First, in the Teatret Vårt Konsert, Moran's duo show with Jan Bang was everything fans of the Norwegian live sampler had hoped it would beand more. A pairing that literally happened over a beer when the two met at a European festival some time ago, it took this residency to create a context where the two could come together and, with little preparation, see just what might happen. If any show was to illustrate the absurdityand lack of necessityof drawing boundary lines based around country, culture and genre, it was this one. Through Bang's Punkt festival, he has experienced increasing opportunities to collaborate with musicians from other countries and, if there's any single thing that defines Bang and has garnered his reputation, it's that his eyes, ears and mind are never anything less than completely open to the possibilities around him. Combine that with a similar quality in Moran and it was the recipe for a performance that spent time exploring both sides of the Atlantic, but more often than not, found a happy nexus point smack dab in-between.
With Moran playing Fender Rhodes in addition to grand piano, it gave the pianist an opportunity to expand his textural contributions; still, during the opening piece he focused on grand piano and, when Bang began to sample and process his music, it took on some of the complexion of Harold Budd's '80s collaborations with Brian Eno, except that Moran and Bang were creating this music in real time, and without the benefit that time (and the opportunity to correct) provides in the more controlled environment of the recording studio; this was musical risk-taking made all the more impressive by the clear fun being had by both players. Moran did move over to Rhodes at one point, but as Bang and Moran periodically smiled at each other (as if something had passed between the two of them), he returned, once again, to acoustic piano to finish a hypnotic piece that ultimately lasted nearly 35 minutes.
The second piece began, with Moran once again on acoustic piano, more on the American side of the ocean, and it was quite something to see Bang's response to being placed in a context in which he rarely has been placedthe American jazz tradition. But rather than feeling out of placethough he certainly was challengedthe constantly in-motion live sampler simplyand literallylaughed out loud. Bang's a positive force in music, and one who is quick to show the happiness it brings, but rarely has he ever responded so vocally.
As the pair moved into its third piece, Bang opened with an exotic orchestral sample that led to a repetitive motif which, sounding like a supercharged balafon with an underscore of sonic washes, vocal utterances and the occasional deep bass pulse, created a space for Moran's layered Rhodes explorations, which were suddenly left completely on their own when, suddenly and unexpectedly, Bang pulled out entirely. Still, it wasn't long before Bang was once again sampling Moran who had, by this time, moved to a more funk-driven acoustic piano, with Bang simplyand uncannily accuratelyturning a dial to alter the sample's pitch to evoke a clear melody.
But that was far from the end, as Bang astutely picked up Moran's long, cascading phrase and, pushing it up an octave (and then more), used it to color Moran's move into a gospel-inflected passage of unadorned beauty.
Both players, throughout the set, found ways to push their own limits and achieve results they might otherwise not have. At one point in the closing piece, Moran stopped playing and, picking up the microphone normally there to simply make introductions, began whistling a theme that Bang had introduced moments earlier, the set drawing to a sudden close with Bang's infectious laughter. The music Moran and Bang made may have been serious at timesdark, evenbut the spirit of collaboration and a first encounter made it not only fun for the players, but for the audience as well. With Bang inviting pianist Tigran Hamasyan to this year's ninth edition of the Punkt Festival in early September, it wouldn't come as a complete surprise to find Moran on the list in 2014, when Punkt celebrates its 10th anniversary in Kristiansand.
Arriving late upstairs at Teatret Vårt Natt, it was immediately clear that something special was already going on. Already in the midst of a powerful solo, Polish altoist Maicej Obara was being driven by fellow Pole, pianist Dominik Wania and two Norwegians bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Gard Nilssen, playing a considerably downsized kit compared to his Bushman's Revenge show from two nights previous. Clearly in deep concentration, Nilssen's light touch was an almost polar opposite to his thundering grooves with Bushman's, but that needn't suggest a lack of power...only a different kind of energy.
Three-quarters of the quartet came together at the 2012 edition of Take Five Europe, where Obara, Nilssen and Vågan were participants. But it was when the saxophonist invited his two friends to Poland, where they met Wania, that Obara International came to be, recording Komeda: Absolutely Live! (For Tune, 2013) in Poland during the summer of 2012. A year later, the quartet was performing its own music rather than its debuta tribute to the famous Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda that combined unfettered power and graceful lyricism. The cover sleeve of that recording has Obara's writing: "I am presenting you here with a recording that is particularly important to me. I hope that you will hear what I hear in it: artists that understand each other without words, whose energy drives, inspires and motivates to act."
All of these things and more were clear in the quartet's set. Vågan and Nilssen are two of the busiest players of their generation in Norway, and for good reason. Vågan's aggressive approachslapping, plucking, hitting, scraping his bass stringsis the closest thing Norway has to a player coming from Charles Mingus, though in some of the other groups with which he is involved, in particular Mellow Motif and, more recently, The Deciders, he's far more outrageous and free. Here, while there was plenty of freedom, it was based around stronger structural contexts, and Nilssen was the ideal rhythm partner: loose, flowingat times swinging, but equally strong at rubato playing. Wania's major touchstone could easily be McCoy Tyner though, with his approach infused with classical ideations, it was, perhaps, more Richie Beirach than John Coltrane's quartet mate. Obara was nothing short of a revelation; an altoiost unafraid to try anything, but constantly listening to the music around him in order to find that shared understanding.
It's no surprise that, after seeing the group a week ago in Munich, there's some interest from ECM Records' Manfred Eicher. Whether or not anything will come of it is yet to be determined, but if Obara International's next record comes out on the lauded, internationally renowned label, it will only mean good things for the groupand for fans of music around the world who value the kind of music that comes from four musicians communicating on such a profoundly deep level.
July 20: Maria Kannegaard Ensemble / Hedvig Mollestad Trio
One of the most noticeable differences between the last visit to Molde in 2010 and the current year was the density of programming. In 2010, it seemed as though there was so much from which to choose, and so much running concurrently, that shows had to be only partly seen, or skipped entirely. 2013's lighter schedule meant the ability to see more, but stillas with any festival taking place over as short a period as six days there's always the risk of overload, making it better to stick to two or three shows per day.
The festival's final day had another eagerly anticipated show of the 2013 editionpianist Maria Kannegaard's new ensembleand a chance to close out the festival, before another characteristically outrageous early morning pickup, with guitarist Hedvig Mollestad, whose second release on Rune Grammofon, 2013's All of Them Witches, was another surprising (in the best possible way) release from a label that's become one of the country's best-known and most respected on an international basis. That both Kannegaard and Mollestad are women only means that there's proof positive that the imbalance between genders in the world of jazz is slowly correcting itself, and that it should have no bearing on how a group or artist is described or assessed.
Kannegaard has been around longer, with groups like Maryland and the trio that, featuring bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Thomas Stronen, formed the core of her new sextet, which also included (in yet another Molde appearance) violinist Ola Kvernberg, keyboardist Ståle Storløkken (another multi-show performer) and, making his first appearance at the 2013 edition, trumpeter/vocalist/percussionist Per Jorgensenwhose inimitable approach, not just to his instruments, but to music, has rendered him not only an invaluable member of Jon Balke's Magnetic North Orchestra and Jøkleba!, but to any constellation in which he's a part.
Kannegaard's trio musiclast heard on 2008's Camel Walk (Jazzland)was (and is) a more idiosyncratic affair; the music performed by this ensemble, while reflecting some of the repetitive elements that make up Kannegaard's trio musicas well as including some percussive elements and knottier constructsnevertheless represents some of the most purely melodic music of the Swedish-born/Norwegian-resident pianist's career.
Some music is meant to be heard; other music is meant to be felt. Some music requires a conscious brain; other music is more transportive in nature, music that transcends conscious thought and goes on a journey that, if successful, takes its audience along for the ride. Dissecting Kannegaard's music would almost take away from its successful sojourn, one driven by both the music the pianist has written and the way that it was performed by a group clearly selected for its individual skills.
Much has already been written about Kvernberg's two other Molde performances; suffice to say that here, in a thoroughly different context, his ability to mold himself to the demands of the music remained intact, turning from the high energy of Bushman's Revenge and the more abstruse nature of the Albatrosh/Trondheim Jazz Orchestra to a more decidedly lyrical bent, but one that also took advantage of the violinist's textural strengths as well. Vågan's role was less aggressive here, and if his work with Obara International was the epitome of power and drive, here it was not so different, only executed with greater elegance and gentility. Storløkken's role here was more textural as well, with no Hammond to be found, only racks of synthesizers that he used to both create sonic soundscapes and mirror Kannegaard's own parts, which leveraged both thematic constructs and repetition that seemed informed by minimalism, but more indirectly so.,
Making their first 2013 Molde appearances along with Kannegaard, Strønen and Jørgensen are two players more fully defining the pianist's music. Strønen's flowing ability with a kit was matched, at least during one segment in the set, with his remarkable adeptness with electronics, his hands and fingers moving so rapidly amidst his pads and buttons as to be nearly invisible, as he morphed sounds on the fly planned and unplanned, preconceived and in the moment. Jørgensen, always a charismatic performer even as he does everything from a seated position, provided a melodic fulcrum, his open trumpet a thing of beauty, his muted horn vulnerability made sound. When he sang, it added soft humanity at times, but when he resorted to his near primal screams in a language still to be determined, it imbued the music with plaintive cries of both beauty and pain.
It's been some time since Kannegaard has released a recording, and while she has three recordings lined up for a box next year, that does not include the music she performed at Molde. That, she revealed in discussion after the show, will be recorded sometime in 2014, for release later that year or, perhaps, in 2015. It'll be a long wait for that record, but one that will undoubtedly be worth it.
And so, before hitting the sack for a brief three or so hours of sleep prior to heading to the airport and the next destination, it was impossible to say goodbye to Molde without at least checking out half an hour or so of Hedvig Mollestad's trio, coming on after a late-starting set by singer Beady Belle. Contrasting Belle's largely chill-out set, guitarist Mollestad (actually Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen) bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad delivered at least an opening portion of their set, culled from All of Them Witches, with even more amped up power. This was instrumental rock music, but played by a guitarist who has clearly developed a richer language through her jazz studies. With two large hollow body electric guitars, Mollestad went against the grain of the usual solid body guitarist, but still relied heavily on her whammy bar to make her chords sing and pulse. Brekken, while playing electric bass, seemed more disposed to her double bass, certainly a rarity in music of this energy and volume. Bjørnstad had all the power he needed to drive the trio, but in the one gentler tune played before leaving the show he also demonstrated a penchant for lighter cymbal work and softer tones, suggesting something broader at work. It was an energetic, electrified performance whose only downfall was its start time, making it impossible to stay until the end.
It was a shame to have to leave the show, but a necessity. As the plane took off in the early hours of Sunday, June 21, with three flights, a bus and a train on the horizon to get to Siena, Italy, the overriding feeling was that, with Molde Jazz Festival about to change hands, its future may be uncertainnot, in the hands of Anders Eriksson, that it will be anything but promising, but it most certainly will be differentbut as Jan Ole Otnæs prepares for his own relocation to Oslo, population half a million, after living in a town of 24,000 for the past 13 years, he has left a clear legacy that will not soon be forgotten. Thankfully, his work will continue, albeit in a much different context; so as Molde continues under new leadership, it will certainly be Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria's gain.
Photo Credits All Photos: John Kelman