Molde Jazz: Day 6, July 18, 2009
The final day of Molde Jazz 2009 wrapped up with three eagerly anticipated concerts, including a rare encounter, a triumphant return and a shifting, rarely heard collective that put on one of the most relentless performances of the festival, one that combined cued form with unfettered free play. Crimetime Orchestra began in 2002 as a free jazz big band informed by the music of Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman (the group's use of two drummers and two bassists harkening back to the 79 year-old innovator, heard recently in performance at the 2009 Festival International de Jazz de Montreal), Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis and classical composers including Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Front l:r: Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Per Oddvar Johansen,
Paal Nilssen-Love, Mats Eilertsen
Of course, with some of the leading lights on Norway's free jazz scene and many othersincluding bassists Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Mats Eilertsen, drummers Per Oddvar Johansen and Paal Nilssen-Love (also a participating member of the Chicago scene via reeds player Ken Vandermark), trombonist Øyvind Brække (also of the smaller collective The Source, with Trygve Seim, Eilertsen and Johansen), keyboardist Christian Wallumrød, saxophonists Jon Klette, Vidar Johansen, Gisle Johnsen and Kjetil Moster, hornist Sofie Tafjord, trumpeter Sjur Miljeteig and guitarist Stian Westerhuswho has recently returned from years spent in England and has leapt onto the scene with a number of groupsthere's more than enough playing power to create some seriously joyous noise. And so it was, when the group took to the Kulturhuset stage, that it took very little time hitting its stride with a kind of collective controlled chaos that may have appeared unstructured when the group was firing on all cylindersas it did much of the timebut remained driven by certain roadmaps that created rallying points for the group throughout its 80-minute set.
Individual solos abounded within the group's fuller context, as did breaking the 13-piece ensemble into a variety of subsets to provide respite from the wall of sound that came off the stage when everyone was in the pool and was, despite Wallumrød's keyboard, Tafjord's processing and Westerhus' array of foot pedals, a largely acoustic performance. At least, even though Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Mats Eilertsen were playing electric instruments, it sure felt that way, with the two drummers and horn section creating such a massive sound that everything else only added to a core density. Wallumrødwho went from the somewhat austere but darkly beautiful performance with his own ensemble on Wednesday to the ordered cacophonywas wearing earplugs, a wise idea given just how much sound was coming off the stage, even before the PA system was taken into consideration.
Eilertsen could be seen experimenting with effects and some unorthodox approaches to his bass, including using a glass slide not to create sliding notes, but to create a persistent wash of sound, and combining electronics with bending his strings to, at one point, sound like a foghorn. Håker Flaten was more about high octane playing, creating a wall of low-register sound that rarely turned to anchoring the group, but when he did in one section of its two lengthy and continuous pieces, working in concert with Johanssen and Nilssen-Love, it was all the more dramatic. And while the jagged power of Crimetime Orchestra was a defining feature, there were moments of respite, although they remained extreme and filled with surprise.
With the powerhouse playing of Johanssen and Nilssen-Love a particular high point for the group, it was Westerhuswho played with reckless abandon throughout the set, but took a lengthy solo near the end of the second piecethat was the surprise star of the show. Possessing a wealth of sonic invention, raw and angular ideas and a magnetic stage presence made all the more noticeable by his physical separation from the rest of the group on stage rightlargely, no doubt, because of the footprint of his rig and the sheer volume coming for his VOX AC-30 (the longtime favorite of many of Norway's most famous guitarists, including Eivind Aarset and Terje Rypdal)Westerhus, who has released the first album on Rune Grammofon's new, all-vinyl label The Last Record Company, Galore (2009), is on the ascendant. A member of the reformed Jaga Jazzist and recently replacing Aarset in trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær's group, his wildly creative approach to turning the guitar into something much bigger texturally remains a more direct contrast to Aarset's less guitaristic palette.
There were other high points, including the empathic interaction between Johanssen and Nilssen-Love, Tafjord and Wallumrød's out-of-this world electronics, a fiery baritone saxophone/drums duet with Nilssen-Love and brief encounter between Håker Flaten and Johansen. But the group's greatest benchmark was when it was playing as a 13-piece ensemble, creating an almost impenetrable sonic assault of power that was only hinted at on its one release, Life is a Beautiful Monster (Jazzaway, 2005).