Punktfest 06 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day One, August 24, 2006
Moving to the Alpha Room, the first performance was by singer Anne Marie Almedal. Seated on a stool, Almedal was surrounded by her group, including guitarist/pianist Nicholas Sillitoe, guitarist Rolf Kristensen and Sigrun Tara Overland, who played autoharp (a miniature harp) and provided Almedal with strong backing vocals. The all-acoustic group contrasts with Almedal's work with the pop-oriented Velvet Belly, which released a number of records from the mid-1990s until 2003, winning a Norwegian Grammy.
That Almedal's singer/songwriting and folk music aesthetic should immediately follow Danielsson's improvisational set is proof of the diversity of Punktfest. It also demonstrates the community sense of the festival. Almedal has worked with Bangin fact, the real unifying link connecting all the artists here is that they have intersected, at different times, with Bang and/or Honoré. In some ways Punktfest is like the Canadian FIMAV festival in Victoriaville, where there's no genre-typing. But this event can be differentied by the ever-broadening connections between the artists, as well as the ongoing cross-pollination among them.
While Almedal's music fits squarely into the folk realm, her flexible voice and Overland's vocal support made the set. At times singing more conventional harmonies, Overland was often the "X" factor, using her voice in unpredictable ways to create unusual textures and singing lines that wrapped around and intertwined with Almedal's, rather than merely supporting them. Kristensen switched between a number of acoustic guitars, each with a distinctive voice. While he rarely took a defined solo, he played a broader role as colorist to Sillitoe, who was often the rhythmic and chordal anchor for the group.
Back in the main theater, Bugge Wesseltoft brought together a number of artists who record for his Jazzland label. The performance, called "Jazzland Community," again emphasized again how so many of the Norwegian artists at Punkfest intersect in a variety of contexts.
Wesseltoft began solo on the grand piano with his back to the crowd. He may not have the virtuosic abilities of Keith Jarrett, but he's equally capable of bringing forth compositional ideas in a completely spontaneous way. After a few minutes of building his ideas on piano, Wesseltoft reached into the instrument, hitting the strings to create a rhythm that he looped, creating a pulse that began to evolve as the piece progressed. Wesseltoft, like so many other the Norwegian artists, seamlessly integrates technological ideas. Rather than there being an artificial dichotomy between acoustic and electric concepts, artists like Wesseltoft bring them together organically. Reductionists might complain that this integration dilutes the music, when in fact it makes it stronger and increases its potential.
Wesseltoft continued to build his solo by adding a variety of sampled sounds, including a deep bass pulse that was felt in the gut as much as it was heard, singing into the piano mic and looping that, as well as sampling his piano and feeding that back into the mix, created a remarkable aural and visual landscape. It's hard to believe that so much sound, and with such an organized sense of purpose, could be created by just one person.
Towards the end of Wesseltoft's segment, he was joined by bassist Marius Reksjo, drummer Wetle Holte and guitarist Eivind Aarsetthe three players comprising Aarset's group Electronique Noire. As a more insistent groove emerged, Wesseltoft left the stage, allowing Aarset's trio to cover material from his Jazzland discography. In many ways, Aarset has replaced Terje Rypdal as the guitarist of choice in the Norwegian community, working with everyone from neoclassicist Ketil Bjornstad to Nils Petter Molvaer, bassist Arild Andersen and percussionist Marilyn Mazur.
The eureka moment for Aarset came a few years ago, when he was doing a session with Wesseltoft where he was told not to play conventional rhythm guitar or solos. Rather than considering this a restriction, Aarset viewed it as an opportunity to work towards a new, more textural role for guitar, and took advantage of a wide variety of technologies to process his sound and fashion it into one of the most un-guitar-like sounds on the planet. Even when he does resort to something that sounds more like an electric guitar, it's usually in the context of a richer atmosphere. And when he resorts to more aggressive noise, it never sounds random or lacks a clear purpose.
In addition to a powerful drum sound, Holte also added programming to the mix; so between himself, Aarset's immense arsenal of sonic manipulation devices, and Reksjo's earthy anchor, there was an incredibly dense sound coming from such a small group. But while it was dense, it was rarely chaotic or jagged. The rhythms ranged from an almost hip-hop pattern, but in an atmospheric contextand, at times, a deep lyricismthat distanced it completely from the urban American form.
It's interesting, in fact, to see how similar technology can be used so differently by musicians from different cultures. Holte may have been playing a hip-hop-inspired rhythm, but Reksjo's fluid bass lines created an entirely different vibe. And while Aarset's writing has form, it's more like a skeleton that the entire trio can flesh out in an improvisational approach.