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Live Reviews

Punkt Festival 2009: Day 4, Kristiansand, Norway, September 5, 2009

By Published: September 7, 2009

Albatrosh, featuring Lene Grenager/Hild Sofie Tafjord

A lot can happen in a year. When Albatrosh—the duo of pianist Eolf Dale and saxophonist Andre Roligheten, two young music students—performed a short set for the members of the 2008 JazzNorway in a Nutshell participants, in the small village of Rosendal, on the way to Stavanger, it was early days. Still unrecorded, the duo demonstrated a remarkable improvisational and compositional sophistication, one which would be rewarded a few short months later, at the 2008 Molde Jazz Festival, where they won the prestigious Jazz Intro prize. The pair went into the studio soon after, and recorded their critically praised debut, Seagull Island (Inner Ear, 2009).

Punkt Festival 09 / Albatrosh Eolf Dale, Andre Roligheten

Sixteen months after Rosendal, Albatrosh made its debut at Punkt with an expanded line-up that also included French hornist Hild Sofie Tafjord and cellist Lene Grenager—two members of the all-improv group Spunk (which also included singer Maja Ratkje, who performed on Day Two), which recently released Kantarell (Rune Grammofon, 2009). The growth in Dale and Roligheten's playing was palpable, but even more so was their writing, which continues to leave copious space for the free exchange of ideas but, in addition, demonstrates a remarkable leap in sophistication for these two young players who are currently studying for their Master's degrees in music.

Splitting the writing between Dale and Roligheten, and between compositions from Seagull Island and newer work, the quartet provided a number of opportunities. Dale and Roligheten, who have been playing together for a number of years despite their young ages, continued to mix greater extremes—especially Roligheten, who's gradually emerging voice has at least some precedence in the playing of John Zorn

John Zorn
John Zorn
sax, alto
and fellow Norwegian, Hakon Kornstad
Hakon Kornstad
Hakon Kornstad
and uses similar approaches to percussion, multiphonics and overtones—with more abstract ideation and, at times, passages of great beauty. Tafjord and Grenager, in the context of Spunk, are fearless improvisers, and they brought a similarly unfettered approach to their work here; but equally, it was a treat to hear them working with more through-composed material, creating an unusual ensemble sound with a less-than-orthodox combination of saxophone or bass clarinet (the latter, a new addition for Roligheten), French horn and cello.

Roligheten's tendency, as a writer, is towards creating cued and oftentimes knotty motifs that act as rallying points for collective improvisation, while Dale's lean towards more complex form. In both cases, there's greater depth and, with this unique chamber setting, a chance to explore greater textural diversity. While Roligheten's quirky themes are often clear, the line between form and freedom became, at least some of the time, more blurred for Dale. The saxophonist's breadth and improvisational acumen was stronger than ever, while Dale continued to demonstrate a sometimes cartoon-like approach to accompaniment, with relentless, walking bass lines peppered with right hand chords. Tafjord and Grenager took a break during Roligheten's "Matrosh," where the pianist and saxophonist demonstrated, in even clearer terms, just how much their collective personality has grown.

That a pair of musicians, just into their twenties, can write and play with this degree of maturity and sophistication is an ongoing endorsement of the value of arts education from an early age. With this much growth in only a year, it's hard to imagine where Albatrosh will be 12 months from now.

Live Remix: Helge Sten/Jan Bang

The final live remix at Punkt is almost always a memorable one. Two years ago, trumpeter and one of Punkt's founding fathers, Jon Hassell

Jon Hassell
Jon Hassell
, delivered a final remix that remains one of the festival's most moving. For the closing remix of Punkt 2009, Jan Bang and Supersilent

guitarist/sonic revolutionary Helge Sten broke new ground with a Punkt first: a remix of a remix. Sitting in the audience during Peter Tornqvist's remix of Arve Henriksen's "Cartography" performance with a couple of Dictaphones, the two decided to tackle the challenge of taking Henriksen's evolving language one step further by reshaping the first remix and bringing its largely acoustic nature back into the realm of electronics and sound sculpting.

Punkt Festival 09 / Helge Sten / Jan Bang Jan Bang, Helge Sten

There was, in fact, another link between this remix and Hassell's from 2007. While remixes have no advance planning in terms of specific content, the line-ups are usually determined well in advance. Hassell chose, instead, to attend Punkt 2007 in its entirety, choosing his collaborators relatively at the last minute on the final day. Similarly, Sten's remix for this year was billed as "Helge Sten + guests," allowing him the flexibility to recruit who he wanted as near to the remix as possible. That he ultimately chose to work only with Bang was interesting; as a member of Henriken's group, Bang was in the perfect position to both bring some of the language back full-circle while, forward-thinking improviser that he is, working with Sten to drive "Cartography" in a new direction.

Like Eivind Aarset, Sten's approach to guitar is often significantly removed from convention. As the remix began, with Bang taking the music back to the softer ambience of its source, Sten's heavily effected instrument sounded more like something that would be heard in a gamelan ensemble, albeit one slowed down and dropped in pitch well below the range of the normal tuned percussion used. The overall ambience was darker than Henriksen's as well, no surprise given Sten's production alter-ego moniker, Deathprod. Still, despite the more brooding and occasionally dense sonics, there were moments of stunning beauty, especially near the end of the remix when Sten began playing a simple and ethereal series of chords.

It's difficult to begin a remix, coming as it usually does, from almost nothing and the demand of choosing from near-infinite possibilities; equally challenging is determining when to end. Twice during the remix, the music began fading to near-silence but then, in each case, it became clear that there was something more to explore, with Bang in one case and Sten in the other, emerging from the space to begin building new ideas, upon which the other then latched. It was a perfect example of the give-and-take that makes each and every Live Remix both a challenge and an opportunity.

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