Punkt Festival 2009: Day 4, Kristiansand, Norway, September 5, 2009
Arve Henriksen's Cartography (ECM, 2008) is more than a career consolidation and the trumpeter's most impressive musical statement to date; it's truly a new way to look at the process of composition, a new approach to collaboration and improvisation, and a more production-intensive project that's at odds with ECM's usual two day recording, one day mixing philosophy. But with the album now a year oldand its creation dating back even furtherin performance it has continued to evolve, even as Henriksen performed it as a trio with live sampler Jan Bang and guitarist Eivind Aarset at Natt Jazz 2009 in Bergen, and expanded to a quartet with percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken at Molde Jazz 2009. Henriksen's Punkt performance augmented the core trio with Trio Mediæval soprano Anna Maria Freeman, who also participated in Henriksen's stunningly moving closing performance to his run as Artist-in-Residence at Molde Jazz.
Eivind Aarset, Arve Henriksen, Anna Maria Friman, Jan Bang
If the opportunity to watch Henriksen perform this music three times in one year has shown anything, it's that Cartography is more than an album; it's a new language that the trumpeter continues to hone, in concert with his band mates. Many of the same pieces were performed, notably the powerfully moving "Recording Angel," which opened the hour-long set. But while some of the key definers remain constantmost notably Henriksen's deep lyricism and, even in the rare moments where the freer improvisations turned more angular, a profound bond with his audiencethe way in which he interacts with Aarset and Bang continues to evolve to a level so mitochondrial that it's no surprise that, amongst the many visuals that turned the show into an experience for the eyes as well as the ears, there was text describing the nature of DNA and the human genome.
Friman's participation added a new dimension to the music, her pure voice providing a melodic counterpoint to Henriksen's hornand his own angelic falsetto. At times singing together, it was a hint of the music the two performed together at the Molde closing concert, but the benefit of a smaller ensemble meant more room for extemporaneous exploration. When she first appeared, she was using the same hand-held tuned percussion (long, rectangular bars that, when shaken, created single, vibraphone-like notes) as she did with Trio Mediæval; Henriksen, too, used these unusual instruments. Aarset and Bangnow going back many years together as members of trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer's now-dissolved quintetare both sonic conceptualists who are constantly finding new ways to evolve the music of Cartography. Aarset, in particular, eschews traditional virtuosity (though he is, undeniably, one) and here, like so many of the musicians performing at Punkt, was about serving the demands of the music, not himself.
Henriksen's palette continues to broaden and refine. In addition to expanding extended techniques for his three horns, singing is becoming a larger part of what he does. In addition to his vulnerable falsetto, he demonstrated increasing skill at throat singing, creating brief, sometimes rapidly delivered monologues in Norwegian that, with references to Friman and Punkt, were still partially clear to the festival's English-speaking contingent, and singing in his natural range with increasing power. The music was texturally rich and, linking a number of pieces together into two continuous suites, remarkable for its ability to mesh free improvisation with constructed segments that were all the more remarkable for their sudden emergence through cues that were barely, if at all, perceptible. As Cartography continues to evolve, it's chances to hear it in performance that provide the best window into where Henriksen is going with this new and distinctive vernacular.
Another of Punkt's regular participants is Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra's Peter Tornqvist. While not precisely a live remix, the conductor/composer took aspects of Henriksen's Cartography, using them as the foundation for a contemporary composition that still incorporated both free improvisation and live sampling, to demonstrate that even in the classical world, new technological innovation is being used to keep the music alive and relevant.
Peter Tornqvist, members of the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra
With a 14-piece ensemble that included strings, woodwinds, horns and percussion, in addition to violin soloist Victoria Johnson (currently a research fellow at The Norwegian State Academy of Music), an electric keyboard and that ubiquitous Punkt staple, the MacBook, Tornqvist's group took up almost the entire floor in the Alpha Room. In many ways, Tornqvist's composition seemed, at least on the surface, a direct contrast to what Henriksen is about. The trumpeter's melodicism was replaced by more oblique themes; a smoother improvisational veneer was replaced with sharper, more angular and often more jarring soloing; and music of layered complexity was replaced with writing that was both longer in form and more detailed in construction. It made for a less-than-obvious link between the two, and yet there were connections to be found, most notably in the interaction between the ensemble's primary soloistwho scraped and scratched the strings as much as she bowed them in more traditional fashionand Tornqvist's live sampling of her often extreme approach.
A link could also be found conceptually, as Tornqvist continues the search for ways to expand the classical language. Long, droning string passages worked in concert with tuned percussion to create an ever-shifting foundation. And while the link was less direct, what Tornvist achieved as an extension of Henriksen was something more aesthetic. A remix, at its core, is about taking one person's music, deconstructing it and rebuilding it with the voice of the remixer, moving both artists' music forward in new and unexpected ways. Inspired by Henriksen's languageand, from past years' performances at Punkt, that of other modern improvisersTornqvist has been creating his own expanding musical philosophy; one that lives unmistakably in the classical world but, at the same time, breaks down its own borders by bringing in elements anathema to purists. If the only way for music to move forward is to intrepidly take risks and look past conventions, then Tornqvist is a hidden treasure in Kristansand; an artist ignoring the confines of his chosen field and, instead, searching for new ways to make it relevant in the new millennium.