Punktfest 06 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day One, August 24, 2006
As the set evolved seamlessly, Aarset's trio was joined by Holte's band mate in Wibutee, saxophonist Hakon Kornstad. Wibutee's more structured approach is clearly an area that Kornstad wants to explore, but here he demonstrated an incredible array of extended techniquesonce again showing just how far an instrument can be stretched. Tonguing to create a percussive sound, delivering remarkable multiphonics, placing the bell of the horn against his leg a la John Zornthese are just a few of the techniques Kornstad brings to the table. He may not possess serious "jazz chops" by more rigid definitionsbut, as is the case with most of the artists performing here, who cares? While he doesn't play like any icons from the tradition, it's clear that Kornstad has heard jazz artists considered to be essential roots. Rather than regurgitating the same ideas, Kornstad applies them to his own melodic concept in a way that's no less distinctive.
As Aarset and the trio left the stage, Kornstad remained on his own, building a solo that revolved around a simple I-IV-I-V series of changes. Kornstad made them personal by applying multiphonics to create harmonies that suggested even richer voicings. His technique was unassailable, smoothly shifting back and forth from melodic phrases to the harmonic changes in a way that kept each part in mind, so that it ultimately felt like the two parts were converging.
After Kornstad left the stage to thunderous applause, singer Sidsel Endresen came on, starting with a solo piece that demonstrated just how far her instrument could go. Beginning by emulating the wind, but in such a way as to create an impression of harmonic movement, Endersen then began to layer clearer notes on top. Articulated phrases began to emerge, sounding like snippets of conversationsometimes moving forward, other times sounding like they were going backwards. The variety of textures she was able to create without processing of any kind was remarkableeven sounding at one point like a shakuhachi.
Endresen was then joined onstage by Wesseltoft and Aarset for a version of "Western Wind," from her 2001 Jazzland release Undertow. As spare as the original was, it was even more spacious. Wesseltoft and Aarset built the the two-chord structure almost imperceptibly, seeming to coalesce; Reksjo, Holte and Kornstad reappeared, one at a time. With a strong pulse emerging, the song morphed into an improvisation where the entire Jazzland Community, now brought together, moved farther and farther away from definition and towards an ending of barely controlled chaos.
In the Alpha Room the first live remix took place, providing a taste of what's to come over the next two days, where a greater number are scheduled. The integration of sampled music and live performance may well be the greatest risk taken by this festivalwhich, to a large extent, is defined by it. With a live audio/video feed to the bar area of the theater, those who were unable to fit into the room's smaller capacity still had the opportunity to see and hear this innovative idea in action.
Returning to the theater, singer/songwriter Anja Garbarekthe daughter of legendary ECM saxophonist Jan Garbarekput on the most structured show of the day. Still, the connection to Punktfest was there; Wibutee's Holte and Kornstad recently joined her band to support a tour promoting her new album, Briefly Shaking (EMI, 2005).
Garbarek's voice is bigger than her diminutive size would suggest, and like many of her influencesKate Bush and Peter Gabriel in particularshe has a cultivated stage presence.
Hers is highly produced music in a rock/pop vein, but with a deeper sense of feeling and construction than much of the disposable pop of todayespecially in North America. It's a distinguishing point between the European and American pop scenes that an artist like this can thriveshe'd likely have a tough time getting heard on most radio stations in North America. Combining some of the technological elements that were so inherently a part of other Punktfest acts, she also defined herself through stories from the dark side and a personna onstage that ranged from soft to abrasive. While her voice was definitive, there are times when she used it as a more integrated part of the action, rather than riding atop it.
The lighting for all the main theater acts was stunning, but Garbarek's was clearly tailored to the arc of her show, building to a peak where lights began to flash out over the audience. The five-piece band included, along with Kornstad and Holte, a keyboardist, guitarist and bassist/guitarist, so there were plenty of layers going on behind her. Structured? Yes. Accessible? Yes. But Garbarek is a significant voice on the Scandinavian avant-pop scene, and the fact that she's had little exposure in North America is criminal.
The last time that the Anglo/Norwegian collective Food released an albumLast Supper (Rune Grammofon, 2005)it was still a quartet, but for last night's show in the Alpha Room, Food became the duo of Thomas Stronen and British saxophonist Iain Ballamy. In many respects the duo is the most flexible and responsive kind of collaboration, because with only two people involved, the lines of communication are clearer, and the players have a greater ability to react on an intimate level. While the absence of trumpeter Arve Henriksen begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting was initially disappointing, Stronen and Ballamy proved the value of interaction in a duo setting, and their performance here was actually stronger than the way they sounded on their brief North American tour a couple of years back with the full quartet.
Stronen had far fewer acoustic percussion instruments than the last time around, where he seemed to be surrounded by all manner of instruments big and small. With other projects like Humcrush (Rune Grammofon), Stronen has moved more towards the area of sonic manipulation. There may have only been two people onstage last night, but the sound was at times much bigger.
Like Jan Bang, Stronen provides firm evidence that the concepts of sampling and sound manipulation are not necessarily mechanistic, but can be highly personal, suggesting that those who don't consider the approach both musical and on equal footing with more conventional instruments need to pause and reconsider. Stronen's intimate understanding of the technology meant that he was able to create layers of sound and rhythms with which Ballamy could interact. Ballamy also used some processing of his own (on tenor and soprano saxophones and flute), but he was also being sampled by Stronen, who then fed his reprocessed ideas back in the form of loops.
While the overall concept was abstract and freewheelingly improvisational, Ballamy was remarkably lyrical. Their approach rarely became aggressive, and this may have been the most accessible music Food has ever made, although it didn't compromise the adventurous exploration that has been a signature from the start. Stilll, Stronen was capable of edgier surprises. Towards the end of the single long improvisation, he switched from the tiny stickswhich drew some reference to British drummer Tony Oxley's soundto normal sticks, punctuating the music loudly at times.
For a 45-minute set that had no preconception, the chemistry that Ballamy and Stronen shared made for momentsserendipitous, perhapswhere their coming together was uncanny. Early in the set, the two seemed to stop on a dime; Stronen then triggered a drum program and Ballamy picked up on it instantaneously. Further evidence that pure improvisation need not be amorphous or lack a collective sense of development.