Norwegian saxophonist and flautist Håkon Kornstad began to acquire an international profile in the mid-2000s as a member of the electro-acoustic band Wibutee, and with burgeoning guest appearances with the likes of nu jazz auteur and keyboard player Bugge Wesseltoft
and singers Sidsel Endresen
and Anja Garbarek. What made Kornstad's playing so refreshing then, and continues to make it so in 2009, is the distance he stands apart from other Scandinavian saxophonists. On Wibutee albums like Playmachine
(2005), the group's third for Wesseltoft's Jazzland Recordings label, Kornstad proved himself to be as comfortable in Stax or even neo-skronk modes as he was with the ethereal lyricism associated with saxophonist Jan Garbarek
and his school. Kornstadt could do poignant and winsome, but he also enjoyed getting down and dirty.
This broad emotional vocabulary is to the fore once again on Dwell Time, Kornstad's first solo album; there are more blue notes and smears, for instance, than you'll find on all of Garbarek's post-Officium (ECM, 1993) albums rolled together (which isn't to put down Garbarek's music, simply to make a distinction). Dwell Time follows the almost-solo album Single Engine (Jazzland Recordings, 2007), on which Kornstad enlisted a little help from his friends, including Wesseltoft. It was recorded over two nights at Oslo's acoustically-blessed Sofienberg Church in January 2009. Kornstad plays tenor and bass saxophones, flute and flutonette (a cross between a clarinet and a flute), and also weaves live loops and electronic effects into spare but telling accompaniments. There has been, he writes in the liner notes, no overdubbing or "serious" editing.
The music is of rare and bewitching beauty; at times elusive and delicate, at others forthright. Kornstad's affinity with funk and groove illuminates three tracks: the tenor saxophone features "Oslo" and "En Attendant Le Soleil," and the bass saxophone feature "Klaff." On "Oslo," Kornstad is accompanied by a percussive, electric "guitar"-like ostinato and a second loop of upper register harmonics. On "Klaff," the bass saxophone, an instrument with more overtones than a Jane Austen novel, well captured by the recording location, Kornstad creates another beat-centric ostinato by blown upper register harmonics and by tapping the horn's drum-like keypads against its ample body. On "En Attendant Le Soleil," after a teasing, five minute introduction, he plays two glorious minutes strewn with mid-register split tones straight out of the Pharoah Sanders
songbook; the connection might even be conscious, for in structure and mood the tracks mirrors, in condensed form, the opening, sunrise-like "Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt" on Sanders' iconic Tauhid
Elsewhere, the album is gentler, and at times more elliptical, but even here Kornstad isn't shy of adding blue notes or funky rhythmic emphases. His ballads and meditations are pretty and tuneful, but never bland or anaemic, and from whichever direction it is approached, Dwell Time makes for compelling listening.
A perfect little masterpiece.
Personnel: Håkon Kornstad: tenor and bass saxophones, flute, flutonette, live electronics.