Punktfest 06 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day Two, August 25, 2006
By the end of Karl Seglem's solo set in the Alpha Room following Hukkelberg's performance, six words came to mind: the Hendrix of the Goat Horn. While Seglem is a fine tenor saxophonist, his show focused on two goat horns that have been adapted for playing by a Norwegian instrument maker. One actually has a reed, along with finger holes to change pitch; the other requires more of a trumpet embouchure.
Seglem began his setlargely improvised, and consequently returning the day's music to the spontaneous creation that is one of the festival's foundationswith an extended solo on the reed-based goat horn. During this performance, clearly rooted in Scandinavian folk music, I couldn't help thinking of Jan Garbarekbut a Garbarek who took the early album Dis (ECM, 1976) and continued on from there. Seglem was able to alternate between a lower-register melody and a high pitched pedal tone that gave his improv a harmonic center. But while his first piece began lyrically enough, he began to gradually introduce more unusual elementswhispering and grunting through the horn, taking the piece to places of greater extremes.
On his second tune Seglem improvised over a densely layered track that will be on a forthcoming album this fall, triggered by his Apple laptop (a ubiquitous item at Punktfest). The backing track was a densely layered ambient piece that again had roots in Scandinavian folk music, like his improv.
If Brian Eno were Norwegian, he might make music like this, although Seglem's improvisation was more clearly delineated than the way Eno would likely approach this music. Once again a question comes up about the improvised music at Punktfest: is it jazz? But again, the real question is this: does it matter? Conventional jazz has its roots in the folk music of a different culture, so is what an artist like Seglem does any less valid or relevant?
Switching to tenor for his third piece, he demonstrated a remarkable control over harmonics and the range of the instrument. He often played in a range more befitting a soprano saxophone, but with the tenor's more robust timbre, it nevertheless retained its own distinct voice. Gradually introducing delay, he introduced electronic manipulation, which became more obvious when he introduced a pitch shifter as well. While harmonizing a saxophone is nothing new, Seglem somehow managed to get deeper into the relationship between the notes he played and those that resulted from processing.
Seglem shifted gears again, reading a Norwegian poem over top of a programmed track that sounded like significantly processed acoustic guitars. As the track continued, he finished the poem and picked up his second goat horn, and it's here that the set really took off. On its own, the horn had a plaintive voice that truly evoked the feeling of being lost in wilderness, but Seglem soon began speaking, blowing sheer air and adding some hand percussion.
As the track took on a rhythmic pulse, Seglem kicked in the a distortion pedal and began looping some of his phrases. With an octave divider creating pulsing low notes, he increased the volume, added a wah-wah pedal and began to wave the horn near his amplifier, creating feedback that would have made Hendrix proud. And all this from a goat's horn. No surprise from an artist playing at a festival where technology meets tradition, albeit a tradition considerably different than one might hear elsewhere.
With Seglem's set still ringing in my ears, it was back to the main theater for the most conventionally jazz-centric show of the festival thus far. Still, when Bill Bruford and Michiel Borstlap get together to playa few times a year, as Bruford described, likening it to dinner with a friend, but not too often, because that friend can be a challengethe results are anything but predictable.
It was clear from the start that Bruford and Borstlap were having as much fun playing as the audience was listeningperhaps more. Given that their sets are wholly improvised, the chemistry between them was remarkable. While there were moments where it appeared that one was definitely playing with the other, neither managed to be fooled for very long. Able to literally stop on a dime and pick back up with complete synchronicity, Bruford and Borstlap's playing ranged from dark and abstract to more groove-laden.
Bruford's path has moved increasingly towards this kind of improvisation. While his Earthworks band revolves around a greater sense of structure, Bruford's own playing, perhaps as muscular as its ever been, has also become much more relaxed. It's loose in a way that earlier work, even with semi-improvisationally based art rock bands like King Crimson, simply could not support. But Bruford has always been a jazzer at heartit's just taken him thirty years to get back to it. And while he could be powerful and athletic in performance, he could also be subtle and textural, using a number of different sticks for different effects on his unique, symmetrically configured drum kit.
Borstlap is a perfect foil for Bruford. Versed enough in the jazz tradition to be able to go there if he wants, he's also broadly familiar with other stylesso the duo might lean towards a bluesy feel that almost swung, but then it might switch almost telepathically to something more abstract, and then back again. Bruford's eyes were almost constantly on Borstlap, who split his time between grand piano and Fender Rhodes. There was the distinct feeling that either one could take the music anywhere, and that they were just as surprised as the audience at the sudden turns it sometimes took. It's also entertaining to watch them toss back and forth who should actually start the next improv, and equally interesting to see just how they decide that it's time to stop.
The set covered a lot of ground. But given that both players have a predilection for structure, it's no surprise that their free improvisations sounded more like intentional compositions. Borstlap might find his way to a specific motif that would suggest a rhythmic approach from Bruford. He was also just as likely to deviate from that motif, sometimes subtly other times more dramatically. But the most remarkable thing about the way these players function was how they would find their way back together with no apparent cue. Playing this kind of music requires the confidence to know that a suggested direction will be followed, and that following a suggested direction will never get one into inextricable trouble. Or, perhaps, even if it does, there's always a way out to be found, if one only looks hard enough.
During Bruford's relaxed banter with the audience, he explained how he often thinks up titles to songs that have never been played, in order to give Borstlap a conceptual starting point. In his typically dry manner, he decided to inform Borstlap that the last tune of the set would be called "One Last Chance to Get It Right." A perfect title to end a set where, far more often than not, Bruford and Borstlap both got it right.