Molde Jazz: Day 1, July 13, 2009
To open the festival, Arve Henriksen delivered a performance of material largely culled from Cartography. But by expanding the trio that performed at Natt Jazz in Bergen this past May to a quartet with percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken, there was a broader context that allowed the trumpeter to take considerably greater liberties with the music, and travel to places surprisingly more aggressive than on the album. Still, at the core of the performance was a painfully lyrical beauty that has been a focus for Henriksen throughout his career.
As is the case at Jan Bang's annual Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, Norway, Molde's attention to set design and lighting turns every concert into more than just a musical experience. With a series of large tubes spread across the back of the stage, and assorted computerized lighting peppered throughout it, Henriksen, Norbokken, Bang and guitarist Eivind Aarset entered the stage in near darkness, a black light turning Henriksen's trumpet a bright yellow-green. Though the lights gradually came up, the overall ambience was spare, with deep blues and greens the primary colors for the set.
Henriksen's approach to his instrument, heavily influenced by the Japanese shakuhachithough that's really only a starting pointremains an unmistakable identifier. He may occupy similar territory as another influence, trumpeter/Fourth World creator Jon Hassell, and fellow Norwegian Nils Petter Molvær, but Henriksen's voice is like neither, and his own approach to panculturalism continues to move with its own trajectory. Neither as sensually grooving as Hassell or beat-heavy as Molvær, Henriksen mines sources ranging from contemporary classicism to Norwegian traditionalism, constructing compositions of great depth and sonic breadth. Combining ambient textures with, at times, visceral pulsesboth programmed by Bang and performed by Norbakken on an incredible array of multicultural percussion and found objectsthe music of Cartography continues to evolve. Henriksen's pure singing voice on the sonically expansive "Recording Angel" acted as a melodic focus around which his band mates initially revolved, but as he returned to trumpet, Aarset's understated textures and Bang's astute live sampling choices expanded the aural landscape into something even more profound.
Bang's remarkable ability to grab bits of everything going on about him, and find the precise moment to reintroduce carefully selected segmentsoften heavily processedback into the mix, continues to evolve. Watching his hands move around his gear, and his body move to a rhythm that he may still be building before actually introducing it to the soundscape, was a revelation. Bang lays to waste claims that sampling and processing are not equivalent to playing "real" instruments. His contribution to Henriksen's music, determined in real time and with the kind of intuitive interaction that's at the core of the best improvised music, may appear unorthodoxand certainly the sounds emanating from the stage were far from conventional, with everyone finding ways to stretch and twist the expected into the unexpectedbut they are unequivocally musical.
Aarset continues to be something of an anti-guitaristusing, as he does, an array of pedals, device and a laptop to turn six strings into a virtual orchestra. But as nuanced as much of his playing was, towards the end of the concert's second lengthy piece he adopted a more industrial tone that drove it into far more angular territory than was heard only two months previous in Bergen. Norbakken demonstrated a remarkable ability to make a large bass drum sound small and delicate, while at the same time turning a small percussion instrument into something massive. As much a colorist as a rhythmist, his experience touring with traditional singer Mari Boine and playing an integral role on Jon Balke's masterpiece, Siwan (ECM, 2009), has provided him with a diversity of contexts, the sum total of which he brought to his work with Henriksen.
l:r Eivind Aarset, Helge Andreas Norbakken, Arve Henriksen
The set's two long, continuous performances joined together a number of pieces from Cartography, including the moving, choir-driven album closer "Sorrow and Its Opposite," in addition to some new material. Perhaps most remarkable was how the group moved from piece to piece, seamlessly segueing from more freely improvised segments based on something as simple as a spare melody from Henriksen or a stark pulse from Norbakken. There were times where the quartet built to a feverish climax, only to drop suddenly to near-silence, the effect as profound as that in Godfrey Reggio's landmark 1982 film, Koyaanisqatsi, where classical composer Philip Glass achieved the same effect. In Henrkisen's performance there were moments where it was possible to feel the tension in the audience release.
Henriksen brought a wealth of techniques to bearmore than his recognizable shakuhachi-informed trumpet toneat times playing two trumpets simultaneously, combining singing with embouchure through his trumpet, and deserting his choir-like falsetto for an overtone-rich vocal delivery influenced by Tuvan throat singing. But whether creating deeply resonant music of melancholy lyricism and soft surfaces or playing with harder textures and sharper edges, Henriksen and his quartet demonstrated that it's possible to combine broad stylistic and cultural references, often hidden but unmistakable virtuosity, sonic innovation and improvisational élan, into a mélange that may be recondite on the surface, but remains powerfully moving on a near-subconscious level.