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Live Reviews

Norwegian Road Trip, Part 5: Molde Jazz, Days 1-2

By Published: July 22, 2010
July 19: Laying the Foundation and Art Exhibits

Plenty is written about fearless Norwegians, the benefits of having the money to invest in the arts and a kind of reckless innovation where no idea is a bad one. But an event during the morning of Molde Jazz's first day brought all three together.

Det Hvite Hus Groundbreaking

With a new library being built for Molde—laws to promote literacy in Norway mandate that there must be a certain number of books available per capita—it's indicative of the country's approach to collaborative thinking that the venue will also house a cinema and a new performance space. The number of performances spaces in Molde already far exceed that of similarly sized towns in North America. But at a foundation laying ceremony that, in most places, would feature a couple of speeches by local representatives and nothing more, over a thousand people attended an event that lasted close to an hour, and combined official statements with poetry and music, performance art, and even a bit of live dance/theater.

Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra at Det Hvite Hus Groundbreaking

Japan's Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra—who would kick off the festival at its large outdoor Romsdalsmuseet (Romsdal Museum) a couple hours later—opened the groundbreaking/foundation laying ceremony with a propulsive, percussion and brass heavy performance that included heavily made-up dancers. A spoken word segment by five festival representatives, including Festival Director Jan Ole Otnæs, was followed by an excerpt from Driving Miles, a festival play written by Henning Mankell that will be running the entire week, and featuring actor Per Egil Aske and trumpeter Jørn Myklebust.

Tori Wrånes at Det Hvite Hus Groundbreaking

But, following speeches from federal officials, the real surprise came when an accordion and voice began emanating from the speakers at the site. Looking around, trying to find where the music was coming from, nothing could be seen until Otnæs pointed up to the sky, and it became clear that a crane on the site was not there for the construction of the new building. Instead, hanging off a cable, performance artist Tori Wrånes could be seen gradually being lowered to the ground—though she never actually made it. Instead, she came closer to eye level for the crowd, only to be gradually raised once again to a concrete platform behind the site of the new library.

Only in Norway.

But that wasn't Wrånes' only performance—and she seems compelled to do things that would not only challenge most of her peers; the festival actually had trouble finding a crane operator who would agree to collaborating with her, even though her rider includes a waiver for any and all possible actions in the event that she's injured during a performance. A few hours later, at the local art gallery, another event took place to open the festival's exhibition of artist Kim Hiorthøy's artwork for Rune Grammofon, Molde's first Label in Residence. After speeches including one from Music Information Centre's Martin Revheim, sound again began to emanate.

This time, somehow positioned high up and hanging perpendicular to a tree beside the gallery, Wrånes once again sang (though, with both arms wrapped around the tree, there was no chance for a repeat performance on accordion). When the song was over, and when the opening was over, she remained in the tree as attendees drank, ate and chat.

Tori Wrånes at Rune Grammofon Art Exhibit Opening

Again, only in Norway.

July 19: Nils Petter Molvær Opening Performance

For his opening performance as Artist in Residence at Molde Jazz 2010, Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær put together a dream team of international players. From Norway: keyboardist/percussionist Jon Balke
Jon Balke
Jon Balke
, with whom Molvær played in the 1980s with Masqualero, and drummer Rune Arnsen, a member of the trumpeter's original group that began touring around the time of his landmark ECM release, Khmer (1997) and remained in the band until it dissolved a couple years back. From the United States, bassist Bill Laswell
Bill Laswell
Bill Laswell
, who has been involved in seemingly countless projects, collaborating with saxophonist/Tzadik label head John Zorn
John Zorn
John Zorn
sax, alto
in the legendary group Painkiller, as well as co-leading the group Material, whose Hallucination Engine (Axiom, 1993) remains a classic of stylistic cross-pollination. From Africa, two percussionist: Baboucar Camara and Alieu Saine. And, finally, from Ethiopia: singer GIGI, who has made a name for her blending of traditional music with ambient music.

Nils Petter Molvær

It seemed like the perfect, large-scale opener for the festival and for Molvær, and there were plenty of strong points about the show. However, it was sadly marred by technical problems—including a booming feedback during the opening atmospherics, the forced the trumpeter to push the band into the Afrobeat pulse faster than he'd planned—and a sense that, perhaps, the group didn't have as much rehearsal time as it could have, with eye contact throughout the show as much about figuring out where to go as how to interact.

That said, if the show was impaired by problems, it remained a complete success for Molvær, who simply could not have played better. While he was situated stage right, with GIGI taking front and center, he remained a commanding and charismatic presence, as he combined electronics, extended techniques and unfailingly lyrical playing into one of his best performances in recent memory. Bolstered by Arnesen's very specific way of creating a dancing pulse, the trumpeter constructed serpentine melodies, using a pitch shifter in an equally distinctive fashion to layer moving harmonies that would otherwise have required three trumpeters to play.


Molvær also took a solo spot mid-set, where he softly sang into the microphone cupped into the bell of his trumpet, gradually building a wash of looped and processed sounds over which he delivered line-after-line of exquisite beauty. It was a virtual tour-de-force of trumpet mastery and the kind of organic technological integration and innovation that has—alongside other Norwegians including guitarist Eivind Aarset
Eivind Aarset
Eivind Aarset

, live sampler Jan Bang
Jan Bang
Jan Bang
live sampling
and saxophonist Hakon Kornstad
Hakon Kornstad
Hakon Kornstad
—set the bar extremely high for others attempting similar feats by making it seem as though all the pedals and rack gear aren't just add-ons to his undeniably fine acoustic trumpet playing; instead they're connected at a mitochondrial level, an extension of his trumpet, just as his horn is an extension of his body.

As thematic as much of Molvær's playing was, he did explore more extreme territory at times, turning his trumpet into a screaming voice that—altered almost unrecognizable by his array of sound processors—demonstrated an unmistakable virtuosity that is rarely on overt display, but absolutely must underscore everything he does.

From left: Jon Balke, Aleiu Saine, Baboucar Camara, GIGI Rune Arnesen, Bill Laswell, Nils Petter Molvær

There wasn't a weakness to be found amongst the players, though as fine a voice as GIGI possesses, as the band's front-person she could have engaged the audience more, since much of the performance was booty-shaking, hand-clapping music that could have become a tremendous party for the capacity audience in the standing-room Bjørnsunhuset venue. Instead, it was good time rather than great one, though Molvær's performance was absolutely fantastic, as he covered new ground and set another very high bar for the rest of his run as Artist in Residence.

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