Punkt Festival 2010
The trials and tribulations of international travelflight delays, missing or damaged baggage, and increasing limitations on said baggagecan be enough to frustrate even the most patient and seasoned world traveler. But despite an almost incredible confluence of problems flying to Kristiansand, Norway, for Punkt 2010, once there all such problems were forgotten. Punkt is simply too important an event each year to be tarnished by extraneous (and, ultimately, irrelevant) distractions. Still, delays and the result of baggage issues effectively resulted in missing much of the first daycentered on the release of EDGE: Contemporary Music from South Norway (Self Produced, 2010), and featuring artists local to the region, including the remarkable saxophonist Frøy Aagre, rock-edged improvising guitar power trio Bushman's Revenge, electronic musician Terje Evensen and forward-thinking piano trio Splashgirl.
It was a tremendous shame, but even catching only two of Punkt 2010's three days meant hearing a remarkable wealth musical innovation across a wide spectrum of musical styles in a short, concentrated space. Punkt isn't a jazz festivalits 2010 line- up included jazz performers to be sure, like trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, groundbreaking improv group Supersilent, the duo of singer Sidsel Endresen and guitarist Stian Westerhus, and saxophonist Håkon Kornstad, but it also featured singer/songwriter Unni Wilhelmsen, an 80th Anniversary concert featuring an Estonian choir performing the music of classical composer Veljo Tormis, and rock group Serena Maneesh. But with improvisation a key component of its defining conceptLive RemixPunkt always easily fits within a broader jazz continuum.
Since its inception in 2005, Punkt's reputation has gained increasing visibility on an international scalea true achievement, considering how physically small the festival is. But small though it may be, Punkt has always been a festival that thinks big.
Punkt takes place in a relatively small town of under 80,000 people, but small in Norway is a far different beast than small in North America. Kristiansand's Agder Theatre, with its 550-person capacity, will be replaced with Kilden in 2012a stunning complex including a theatre more than double the Agder's capacity, but also encouraging artistic innovation and collaboration by housing a theater company, a symphony orchestra and more under one roof. That, in and of itself, would be enough to distance Kristiansand from any North American town of similar size, but the town also has an impressive art gallery, a lively cultural community with artists known on local, national and international fronts, and, perhaps most importantly, Cultiva: a local initiative, now a few years old, that invests interest income on sale of excess electricity back into local culture to support new initiatives.
Fish Market, Kristiansand, Norway
New initiatives like Punkt. When producers/musicians Jan Bang and Erik Honoré first conceived Punkt early in the 21st century, their concept of Live Remix was stunningly fresh and innovative. The two Artistic Directors envisioned a festival with no boundaries; where any style of music could be fodder for these Live Remixes, where concert performances were immediately followed, in another room at the Agder Theatre venue (The Alpha Room), with a performance that brought together other musicians to create further interpretation/expansion onor, at the very least, music inspired bythe show that came before. The Live Remix often brought musicians together who had never metmuch less played togethera real-time laboratory where the no-boundaries concert performances were inspiration for even more unfettered experimentation. That Punkt's Live Remixes can vary widelyfrom failed experiments to music that can actually surpass its source materialonly means that, with Punkt, the journey sometimes means more than the destination. To be sure, some Live Remixes succeed more than others, but they're always worth experiencing.
The past five years of Punkt have featured artists ranging from the cream of Norway's modern jazz sceneincluding keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft, trumpeters Molvær and Arve Henriksen, guitarist Eivind Aarset, singer Endresen, saxophonist Kornstad, and, of course, Bang and Honoréto international artists such as drummer Bill Bruford, ambient forefather/producer Brian Eno, classical composer Gavin Bryars, contemporary British pop group Sweet Billy Pilgrim and, perhaps the conceptual founding father of Punkt, Fourth World trumpeter Jon Hassell. The festival has also been a place to hear up-and-coming artists like Splashgirl, Jarle Bernhoft and Albatrosh.
But more than simply bringing an outstanding roster of performances and Live Remixes to Kristiansand every year for three or four days, Punkt is about an expanding network of peoplemusicians and journalists, yes, but also just plain friendswho believe in Punkt as a means to expand the frontiers of music in an organic and thoroughly positive fashion. And with Punkt as much a concept, a philosophy, an aesthetic, it's also a moveable feast, having been brought to London, England in 2008 and Mannheim, Germany in 2009. There are firm plans for a Punkt in Tallinn, Estonia in 2011, and discussions underway for possible forays into the North American market. You never know what is going to happen at Punkt; but you can be sure that, each and every year, existing relationships are strengthened, and new ones forged, that will result in future collaborations both within and outside the purview of the festivaland perhaps, even, a Punkt coming to a place near you.
As innovative as Punkt isa full history of the festival's conception and more can be found in an extensive 2010 All About Jazz interview with Bang, surrounding the release of his first album as a leader, the deep, dark and beautiful ...and poppies from Kandahar (SamadhiSound, 2010)like any festival, it faces the challenges of longevity; even an innovation as groundbreaking as Live Remix can become stale over time. With the festival in its sixth year, Punkt now faces the same challenge of all established festivals: how to remain relevant?
With a track record that has seen Punkt expand into new areasmusically and otherwiseeach and every year, there's little chance the festival will lose its creative edge or its growing reputation as a point in time, a place in the world, where innovation is de rigueur and attendees can be assured, each and every year, of experiencing one-time eventssometimes planned, even more often completely unexpectedthat will never be seen or heard ever again.
Faced with the same challenges of global recession as all festivals around the world, Punkt 2010 chose to reduce to a three-day festival, rather than the four days of 2009a clear sign of the festival's uncompromising dedication to quality over quantity. It may have been a shorter run, but, if anything, Punkt's attention to quality actually improved in 2010. There was the usual pristine sound in both the main theatre and The Alpha Room, thanks to a remarkable seven-person team of sound engineers; and Tord Knudsen's main theater lighting continued its track record of augmenting each and every performance with visuals far beyond that of most festivals. In order to place the focus on the laboratory-like nature of the Live Remixes, The Alpha Room has traditionally featured no set design or special lighting, but, for the first time, the 2010 edition of Punkt included some very spare lighting and understated attention to how the artists were set up in the 250-person room, successfully creating a visual shift between Live Remixes that mirrored the significant set design changes on the main stage, but without distracting from the most important aspect of The Alpha Room: the musical experiments taking place.
The Agder Theatre
In addition to a remarkable lineup that brought Supersilent to Punkt for the first time, and saw the return of festival regular Nils Petter Molvaer with his new trio, and the CD release concert for Bang's ...and poppies from Kandahar, Punkt Festival 2010 featured a surprise guest who, already a legend in the history of rock and roll, will Surely place the festival on the radar of an entirely new demographic. But more about that later.
- September 3 Puntk Seminar: Sidsel Endresen
- September 3 Punk Seminar: Supersilent
- September 3 Concert:Veljo Tormis 80th Anniversary, Performed by Segakoor Noruus
- September 3 Live Remix: Maja Ratkje
- September 3 Concert: Jan Bang: ...and poppies from Kandahar
- September 3 Live Remix: Dino J.A. Deane/Håkon Kornstad/Anders Engen/David Wallumrød
- September 3 Concert: Skúli Sverrisson a>
- September 3 Live Remix: Sidsel Endresen/Jan Bang/Erik Honoré
- September 4: Boat Trip/Kilden
- September 4 Concert: Unni Wilhelmsen
- September 4 Live Remix: Mungolian Jet Set
- September 4 Double Concert: Sidsel Endresen/Stian Westerhus and Knut Reiersrud
- September 4 Live Remix: Dino J.A. Deane/Nils Petter Molvær
- September 4 Concert: Supersilent and a Surprise Guest
- September 4 Live Remix: Jan Bang/Jon Hassell/ Skúli Sverrisson/Erik Honoré
- September 4 Concert: Nils Petter Molvær Trio
- September 4: Post-Punkt Party and Festival Wrap-Up
One of the world's most innovative singers, Sidsel Endresen has, over the past three decades, honed a distinctive improvisational approach based on the creation of tiny vocal cellsorthodox and unorthodox techniques that range from odd linguistics to reverse-sounding utterances, stuttering gutturals and, at the core of it all, a profoundly beautiful approach to melodism. Ultimately becoming a seamless part of her musical DNA (the way extended techniques do for other instrumentalists), Endresen combines these cells in a weird and wonderful approach that, in addition to placing her voice upfront as is its conventional role, also allows her to act as a textural, accompanying backdrop.
Watching Endresenor listening to her work on albums such as One (Sofa, 2006) or, even better, in a group context on Live Remixes Vol. 1 (Jazzland, 2008)it's hard to imagine just how she conceived her inimitable improvisational approach, but in a repeat and expansion of her 2009 Punkt Seminar, the singer not only shed some light on how she does what she does, but used her audience to show them, by encouraging participatation in some directed free improvisation.
Over the course of 50 minutes, Endresen gradually introduced concepts of melody, time and dynamics, pushing her audience, most importantly, to listen to what was going on around them, and learn to respond...sometimes with silence, as Endresen emphasized the fact that, in improvisation, the act of not singing is as intentional and active a choice as singing itself.
Of course, Endersen's discourse about how she came to her very personal style was just as enlightening. Not a fan of scat singingthough with no shortage of appreciation for those who do/did it, such as Ella FitzgeraldEndresen's early days in the pop/jazz world could have been enoughand would have been, for most singers. But Endresen was dissatisfied, and relatively early in her career, chose a path that challenged what the human voice could do, and what its roll was. Not content to be a frontline instrument, Endresen began to explore ways to allow the voice to become a background texture; to resolve the linear connection of singing, find new means of expression and dramaturgy using purely musical parameters, imbue influences from a variety of cultures without actually imitating them, and find a way to reconcile intuition with intellect.
It was an enlightening seminar, where Endresen led by example but managed, by encouraging audience participation, to not only articulate how she has developed her unique (and still evolving) vocal approach, but captured and imparted some of the true essence of improvisation, dispelling some of the fear and uncertainty often experienced by newcomers to its basic tenets.
If Endresen prepared her audience with some of the basic concepts of improvisation, the following seminar by Norwegian noise improvising group Supersilent built upon them, bringing the idea of creative collective spontaneity into sharp focusfirst, through a short performance; and then, through an informal question and answer period, where its three membersArve Henriksen, Ståle Storløkken and Helge Stentalked both with the audience and, playfully, amongst themselves, to shed some light on how they do what they do.
From left: Ståle Storløkken, Arve Henriksen, Helge Sten
Since first bursting onto the scene with the groundbreaking 1-3 (Rune Grammofon, 2007)an uncompromising three-disc set that set all the basic parameters for the group in motionSupersilent has become one of the world's most unfettered improvising groups. Nothing is forbidden; everything is allowed. The group can move from extremes of volume, density and dissonance to softer passages of profound beauty and tempered space over the course of a long, unfolding period of time...or in a nanosecond. Conventions of melody, harmony and rhythm are available but not definitive or unshakable parameters. Initially a quartet with Jarle Vespestad, but reduced to a trio a couple years back, when the drummer decided to focus more exclusively on other projects, even the group's instrumentation is fluid. Initially a trumpeter, Henriksen, whose Cartography (ECM, 2008) was one of the year's best, has evolved a singing voice ranging from falsetto purity to near-throat singing gutturals, and a drumming style that substitutes sound for rudiments. Sten first came to light with Motorpsycho, but has since become an in-demand producer and audio manipulator. And Storløkken, a charter member of guitarist Terje Rypdal's Skywards Trio who has, more recently, garnered attention for his remarkable keyboard power trio, Elephant9, is a master of keyboard manipulation, an outstanding composer/arranger, and a fearless sonic explorer.
Together, the trio works with no boundaries, able to create infinite sound worlds from the smallest kernel of an idea; its most recent release, 9 (Rune Grammofon, 2009), is the result of three intrepid improvisers and nothing more than three Hammond organs. For its seminar, the trio worked with a more expansive instrumental palette, performing two vastly different improvisations. The lengthy first piece demonstrated how, even in the realm of free improvisation, it's possible to think in terms of song, structure and bigger picture. Nothing is preconceived, yet when the first piece ultimately came to an end nearly 25 minutes after it began, it referred back to the spare lyricism of its opening minutes, despite traveling through some undeniable extreme territory. Henriksen effortlessly shifted from drums to trumpet to voice to pocket trumpet, while Sten combined low-end synth tones with ambient guitar soundscapes and Storløkken layered melodiessometimes oblique, sometimes almost singableamidst angular textures coming from feeding his Fender Rhodes through an array of effects. A shorter second piece began more definitively, with Storløkken's rhythm-centric keyboards and Henriksen's thundering drums, but ended much more rapidly; evidence of the group's ability to follow each other and collectively intuit when to move on and when to stop.
With seminar moderator Tony Valberg kicking off the Q&A period, it soon became clear that Henriksen was the most comfortable spokesperson for the group; a more playful (mischievous, even) contrast to the relatively introspective Sten and Storløkken. Still, the two verbally reticent players contributed to the discussion; they may not have spoken often, but when they did, there was significant meaning. Henriksen spoke, at length, about the trio's attention to sound, and how things changed when he, Storløkken and Vespestadmembers of an earlier group in the 1990s called Veslefrekkwhen they began to work with Sten (a.k.a. Deathprod), who he also referred to as the "brains of the group." A fair statement, when considering that, in any given year, Supersilent might record tens of hours of improvisations, to be sifted through and shaped into a single 50-60 minute release by Sten, who also acts as Supersilent's producer.
Sten also explained that, while Supersilent might edit the beginning or ending of a piece to create more appropriate entry/exit points, what you hear is what went to tape. Surprisingly, given Sten's predilection for sonic manipulation, there's almost no post- production editing or sonic manipulation. All of which makes Supersilent's remarkable body of work, that will expand significantly this year with the release of no less than three albums10 (Rune Grammofon, 2010), recorded before the 9 sessions and the group's first recordings as a trio but, another first, made at Oslo's legendary Rainbow studio and featuring Storløkken on acoustic piano; 11 (Rune Grammofon, 2010), a vinyl-only release of additional material from the particularly fruitful sessions for 8 (Rune Grammofon, 2007); and 12, from another trio sessions that took place at Athletic Sound following the Henie Onstad Art Centre sessions that resulted in 9all the more extraordinary. That this now-trio of musicians can work so effortlessly with sound and concept in real timecreating music that may be all- improvised, but inevitably possesses true shape, true formmakes it stand out amongst the groups that rely on post-production to bring these characteristics to their music.
From left: Ståle Storløkken, Arve Henriksen, Helge Sten
With certain things visible during the group's performancea nod here, a smile, there the question of preconception also came into play at the seminar, and it was confirmed that, while Supersilent uses visual cues to make split-second decisions about direction, none of it is discussed in advance. Henriksen's nod to Storløkken at the start of the second improv was nothing more than an indication to "go!," while Storløkken's nod in Henriksen's direction, towards the end of the first improv, was nothing more than an acknowledgment, "this is good, let's keep going." That Supersilent has never rehearsed, per se, doesn't mean that its individual players don't rehearse for their work with Supersilent. That Henriksen, Storløkken and Sten are busy in a variety of other projects only means that their extracurricular workand tireless work at home, exploring the possibilities of their various instruments and the acquisition of new onesresults in a constant expansion of Supersilent's already infinite potential. It seems hard to grasp that something infinite can continue to evolve; but like a universe that continues to expand after the Big Bang, Supersilent's 1-3 was its Big Bang, and the trio's subsequent work has proven no limits to what it can do.
Along with Arvo Pärt, composer Veljo Tormis is one of Estonia's most important cultural exports. Like Pärt, much of Tormis' writing stems from a tradition steeped in religious tradition and folklore. Unlike Pärt, however, Tormis' primary focus has been on choral works based on runo songs from Estonian folk tradition, and the connection between the Baltic state and Finland, which is Estonia's geographic neighbor, less than 100 kilometers across the Gulf of Finland in Northeastern Europe. The idea of bringing Tormisa traditionalist, if ever there was oneto Punkt might seem antithetical to the often technology-centric festival; but Jan Bang's interest in contemporary classical music runs deep and wide, in past years bringing composer Gavin Bryars to the festival (a recording of his 2008 performance has, in fact, been released in 2010 as Live at Punkt on GB Records); putting together the ambitious Wagner Reloaded Project, which brought together a strong orchestra with live samplers, drummers, keyboardists and more at Punkt 2006; and recruiting Jon Hassell for a rare performance of his pre-Fourth World composition, "Solid State," at Punkt in 2007.
Segakoor Noorus Choir, Raul Talmar Conducting
And so, bringing not only Tormis, but the 32-piece Estonian Segakoor Noruus Choir, under the direction of Raul Talmar, was completely consistent with Punkt's goal of bringing any and all music to the festival that might be appropriate for reinterpretation in Live Remix. Dressed in traditional Estonian clothingthe women in black dresses, white blouses and cylindrical red and gold hats; the men in austere black suits with white shirts and hatsthe moving cycle of 11 pieces (some including multiple songs, such as the five-part suite from "17 Estonian Wedding Songs") began with the 13 women alone, singing a gentle Estonian lullaby for soprano and female choir, "Lauliku Lapsepöli ("Singers Childhood"), from Litany to Thunder (ECM, 1999). Solo voice ebbed and flowed throughout the song, as it did throughout the set, but this was largely chamber choral music, more about collective intertwining harmonies and contrapuntal parts.
When 13 of the 19 men joined in, the choir's range expanded accordingly; yet again, when the balance of the men came onstage about halfway through the 45-minute performance. Despite the size of the Agder Theatre's stage, the riser on which the male singers stood, behind the women, was barely large enough to contain them, and when a percussionist joined inplaying a single large gong but culling a remarkable variety of tones and texturesfor the explosive "God, Protect Us From War," it almost seemed as though the theatre itself wasn't large enough to contain a choir capable of singing as quiet as a whisper or as loud as a storm. Tormis' source material, coming from sources as diverse as "The Arrival of the Wedding Guests," from "Votic Wedding Songs" on Forgotten Peoples (ECM, 1992)in a language so close to extinction that in2005, The Economist suggested that there were only 20 people speakers leftto the surprisingly rhythmic "Forced to Marry a Man," from Forgotten Peoples' "Vespian Paths," came together in a journey that crossed cultural, religious and traditional boundaries, culminating in the dark "We Are Given," ending mid-sentence with "Still we feel the... / Still there is air in..."
As static as the choir was, conductor Talmar was a commanding focal point throughout the performance, moving across the stage and encouraging the various members of the choir. Sitting in the front row, it was possible to hear him quietly blow on a pitch pipe and provide a brief hummed segment of the first line of each piece, to give the choir key and tempo. But with Tormis' music demanding in its harmonic complexity, ranging from glorious consonance to disturbing dissonance, it was a remarkable performance made all the more stunning for Segakoor Noruus' broad demographic ranging over 50 years. A couple of the younger women had body piercings, and it was clear that, while they were steeped in a cultural tradition, they were also young women who, outside the choir, were involved in many of the same pursuits found amongst their peers. It spoke to a possibility to be both contemporary and a part of a cultural tradition; a combination that, sadly, is a rare commodity in North America.
It's hard to imagine a better choice to remix Tormis' music and Segakoor Noorus's performance than Maja Ratkje. Ratkje, a multidisciplinary electro-acoustic composer/vocalist, is comfortable in the world of contemporary classical music, having delivered her own masterful River Mouth Echoes (Tzadik, 2008) and both composition and vocals to Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli's more folkloric but still far-reaching Passing Images (ECM, 2007). She's also a founding member of the all-improv group Spunk, whose 2008 performance at Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville was a highlight of the Canadian left-of-center festival.
Unlike Sidsel Endresen, who works completely acousticallythough often finding herself in electronic environs through the company she keepsRatkje's work involves extended vocal techniques, but also an extensive personal setup of computer, Theremin, sound processing and assorted other devices to create expansive sonic landscapes. Ratkje appeared, in fact, at Punkt 2009, on a double bill with Endresen, that brought into sharp contrast the two singers' radically different but unmistakably innovative and experimentalapproaches to expanding the possibilities of the human voice.
And so, Ratkje's remix of Tormis was a stunning example of remixing, reinterpreting and expanding upon source material from a considerably different space. It was also an early sign that Punkt 2010 was making some subtle changes to its Live Remix presentations in The Alpha Room. Rather than just a couple of small stands with red globe lights to provide the barest illumination, a combination of smoke and gently swirling lighting augmented Ratkje's remix, not so strong as to be distracting from the laboratory work going on, but, instead, drawing the attention into it. Ratkje used snippets of the choir from various points throughout the performance, sometimes creating a lush backdrop of looping, over which she added her own voice, which ranged from pure and melodic to sharp punctuations, created with a small microphone that she actually, at times, kept inside her mouth. She used the airiness of breath, squeaks and squeals, and other unusual textures, sampling them on the fly, processing them, and adding them to an increasingly densifying mix; the volume, too, began to increase, with occasional gut-punching bass shots reaching almost ear-splitting levels.
Watching Ratkje manipulate sound was as impressive as watching Jan Bang do the same. With what looks like a mad scientist's nightmare on a desk in front of her, Ratkje's knowledge of every piece of gear, every device, was so thorough, so intimate, that she worked on an instinctive rather than intellectual level, manipulating her gear with the same natural ease that she manipulated her voice.
As capable as she was of vocal gymnastics, Ratkje never did anything without a purpose, as she pushed and pulled Tormis' music into shapes the composer likely never could have conceived, but which he apparently loved, after it was over. The choir, too, could be seen in the packed Alpha Room, oftentimes appearing shocked and stunned at just how much Ratkje managed to be revere the performance and dispense with its orthodoxy. As the first remix of the evening, Ratkje set the bar incredibly high for what was to come. Fortunately, the rest of her Punkt mates were up to the challenge.
When Punkt Co-Artistic Director Jan Bang released his first album as a leader, ...and poppies from Kandahar (SamadhiSound, 2010), he described it as a continuation of the collaboration he started with Arve Henriksen on Cartography (ECM, 2008). But while samples were fundamental to Henriksen's record, there was still no shortage of real-time playing taking place. While Bang sent files around to individual musiciansmost of them, part of the extended Punkt familyto layer additional performances, what makes the record unique is Bang's compositional approach, culling samples from performances spanning the last several years, and hearing connections between them, that the live sampler would use to create the atmospheric journeys that make up the album.
And so, with an album built mostly from samples, how would a live performance of ...and poppies sound? Well, by bringing together some of the album's most significant playersin addition to Henriksen, trumpeter/keyboardist Jon Hassell, singer Sidsel Endresen, sampler/synthesist Erik Honoré and Swedish bassist Lars DanielssonBang shaped a band capable of bringing the album to lifenot only delivering much of the album's extant structure, but expanding upon it, turning relative miniatures like the Endresen feature, "The Midwife's Dilemma" into something far greater.
Performed in the same sequence, Bang's performance also allowed for some interplay that wasn't exactly possible on the record, even though some of the sampled performances were, in fact, culled from other live performances, where interaction took place. The twin trumpets of Hassell and Henriksen on the album's longest track, the sensually grooving "Passport Control," came from the Fourth World progenitor's Punkt 2007 closing remix of a performance by keyboardist Burnt Friedman, drummer Jaki Liebezeit and reedman Hayden Chisholm, where Henriksen was an invited guest. Bang could have reused that sample for his Punkt 2010 performance, but by featuring the two trumpeters in the flesh, it allowed for the same kind of unpredictability that inspired Bang's writing in the first place.
Bassist Lars Danielsson
On Projection Screen, from left: Jan Bang, Jon Hassell
As with the album, the music ranged from painfully beautiful to, at times, dark and disturbing, with visuals that suited the sometimes amorphous, always shifting nature of Bang's music. There were few breaks in the set, most of the music flowing as continuously as it did on the record, with Bang, as ever, finding rhythm in every nook and cranny. Despite being the leader of the performance, he took his usual place at the far end of stage left with minimal lighting, greater visual focus placed on the soloists, ranging from Endresen, whose stuttering yet harmonically centered vocalizations on "The Midwife's Dilemma" were an early highlight, along with Henriksen's near-vocal trumpet. Danielsson, who only appears on one track on the CD, the abstract "Self Injury," brought a firmer sense of pulse to pieces like "Passport Control," while Hassell's trumpet on the album closer, "Exile from Paradise," provided one of the set's most haunting moments.
Until, that is, "Exile from Paradise" segued into the title track to Endresen's 2000 Jazzland recording, Undertow. It was a sample from that song that Bang used to build his own album closer, and so it made perfect sense to draw his live set to a close by performing the song in its entirety. If Endresen's more oblique excursions into vocal improvisations leave anyone doubting the gorgeous quality of her voiceand her ability to evoke a range of emotions with the subtlest of inflectionsthis performance set any such concerns to rest. That her more experimental work retains an inherent musicality is beyond question; but hearing her perform an actual song only makes clear just how significant a singer she has been and continues to be.
From left: Arve Henriksen, Jan Bang
Selfless, as ever, it's this kind of "check your ego at the door" thinking that has made a festival that engenders tremendous loyalty (discussions around the festival this year raised the question: "has anyone ever not liked a Punkt festival?" The resounding answer: "No."), and a burning desire to attend each and every year. That Bang has taken the live sampling conceptinnovated in the mid-1990s with Bugge Wesseltofthis already extensive studio background, and a giving personality that encourages everyone around him to deliver the best they can, to turn in one of the year's best records is no surprise to anyone who knows him. That he was able to take a recording that was the epitome of studio concoction and turn it in to a live performance of gentle beauty and profound depth may have been no surprise either; rich, and filled with the emotions that comprise the complex human condition, it's clear that Bang's artistic reach is matched only by his humility and unfailing generosity.
The beauty of Punkt and its Live Remix concept is how its family continues to expand with each passing year. Musicians come to the festival for the first time and are instantly drawn in; others may have been here before, but find themselves collaborating with friends both old and new. An intriguing quartet was put together for the Live Remix of Bang's performance. A past collaborator with Hassell, and with a sizable discography under his own name, J.A. Deane began life as a session trombonist in the 1970s, but in the ensuing decades has become increasingly involved in the electronic side of things, moving into the arena of live sampling, in addition to being an ever-reaching experimentalist with new instruments like the three-string lap steel dulcimer he had built for him recently by Quintin Stephens. Deane made his first appearance at Punkt in 2009 as part of percussionist Adam Rudolph's large Go: Organic Orchestra. This year, in addition to this remix, he organized the festival's opening show on September 2, conducting students of the University of Agder, as well as delivering a seminar on performance/improvisation and live electronics.
Saxophonist Håkon Kornstad was no stranger to Punkt, having performed in contexts ranging from his groundbreaking group, Wibutee, in 2006, to a solo performance in 2008, where his use of looping and unorthodox instruments like the flutonette (a flute with a clarinet mouthpiece) made it one of the festival's most impressive sets. Keyboardist David Wallumrød and drummer Anders Engen were new to Punkt this year, but with performances at this remix and the following day with singer/songwriter Unni Wilhelmsen, it's a certainty that they'd become members of growing Punkt family.
The remix was more about interpretation than remix, though Deane did incorporate pieces of Bang's performance, creating layer-upon-layer of sonic washes as a context for Kornstad, whose combination of extended techniques and electronics continues to evolve. Harmonically static, Engen created the gentlest of pulses, while Wallumrød augmented the remix with his own soundscapes. Still, ten minutes into the remix, Endresen's vocals from "The Midwife's Dilemma" suddenly appeared, sparking some staggered responses from Kornstad, who was perhaps most familiar with the singer's work, having performed with her in a series of duo concerts in 2009. Moving to flutonette, Kornstad, in particular, demonstrated open ears to the movement around him; while his personal focus is increasingly on solo performance, sets like this, his all-improv 2010 Kongsberg show with drummer John Hollenbeck and bassist Skúli Sverrisson, and his work in violinist Ola Kvernberg's "Liarbird" show at Molde Jazz earlier this summer, prove that he's lost none of his ability to work in spontaneous collectives.
The quartet's remix may have appeared somewhat static on the surface, but the multiple layers and a gentle sense of forward motion made it a suitably sublime rework of Bang's transcendent ...and poppies performance.
Perhaps best-known in recent years for his work as musical director for avant-popster Laurie Anderson, participation in drummer Jim Black's AlasNoAxis, and some hard-hitting fusion on guitar icon Allan Holdsworth's Hard Hat Area (Restless, 1994), Icelandic bassist Skúli Sverrisson's own music, in particular the richly layered, heartfelt Sería (12 Tónar, 2007) (winner of the Icelandic Music Awards' "Album of the Year") leans more towards composition than performance. Not that Sverrisson isn't a terrific bassist; he is, but with a personal approach that eschews most standard bass conventions, substituting textural and chordal harmony for groove and centering.
From left: Skúli Sverrisson, Eyvind Kang
For his first visit to Punkt, Sverrisson brought a unique chamber group to perform music from Sería, as well as a new album that's been recorded and is due out any day. Fans of Bill Frisell fortunate enough to have caught the guitarist on tour this summer, with his Beautiful Dreamers trio, will have seen violist Eyvind Kang; here, with Sverrisson, his role was more interpretive, performing the bassist's sublimely structured compositions. Less about defined solo space and more about collective ambiance, Kang's ability to play at levels so quiet it was almost necessary to lean forward to hear him, made him a compelling lead instrumentalist throughout the set.
Cellist Hildur Gudnadottir provided more pulse than Sverrisson, occasionally adding wordless vocals to the mix, while keyboardist David Thor Jonsson provided textural backdrops with work inside and out of the piano box, and subtle synth colorations. Sverrisson played his five-string electric bass more like a guitar, with finger- picked arpeggios often driving the music, as well as expansive sonic washes created via strumming, a volume pedal and a variety of effects processing. His writing was almost hypnotic, seemingly static on the surface, but revealing movement over time. The overall ambiance was hushed, with traces of folk music and contemporary classical music imbuing a set that seemed to morph seamlessly from one piece to the next.
Again, Tord Knudsen's lighting augmented the music perfectly, with constant shifts as gradually unfolding as the music; a backdrop of floating stars gradually intensifying only to shift to vertical bars of gray, creating a visual travelogue to the aural one being created by Sverrisson, Kang, Jonsson and Gudnadottir.
Following earlier performances by Bang and Tormis/Segakoor Noruss, Sverrisson's set completed a trifecta of shows heavy on subtle shadings, and dynamics so subtle that the barest of changes felt intense and dramatic. Whether or not Punkt had a theme in mind for its Friday performances (and the closing double bill that ended with the aggressive rock stance of Serena Maneesh would suggest not), its programming of these three artists turned out to be ideal; combining elements from so many sources to further the idea of Punkt as a festival that doesn't just bend the rules, but thoroughly demolishes them.
As much as Jan Bang explained, in his 2010 All About Jazz interview, how Punkt strives to find artists to perform in the main theater that would be perfect fodder for remix, choosing who to do the remix is equally important. Sometimes, pairing up musicians who are encountering each other for the first time forges new relationships that continue on; other times, bringing together artists who know each other so intimately that the remix becomes almost an extension of their other work together can yield terrific results. Ban and Erik Honoré have been collaborating since their teen years, and have worked with Sidsel Endresen for nearly two decades. Bringing the three together for the final remix of the night was perfect; few understand the concept of Live Remix better than the two who created the concept, and Endresen has proven, time and again, to be an astute listener and interpreter.
Endresen began the trio's remix of Sverrisson's performance alone, with Bang and Honoré gradually introducing processed fragments of the bassist's music into the mix. Greater emphasiz on Gudnadottir's cello dominated the first half of the remix, with a kind of hovering feelingnot unlike that of Sverrissondefining it, as Bang's body language expressed a hidden pulse as an electronic beat began to emerge, and Endresen's voice was sampled, harmonized and looped.
From left: Jan Bang, Sidsel Endresen
More a starting point than a full remix, the comfortable communication between the three pervaded, with Bang smiling as Endresen began to sing a particularly haunting melody, and Honorérarely moving, but communicating with his trio mates on a more subliminal levelbrought in stronger elements of cello, viola and piano. Like the remix of Bang's own performance, this trio's rework and expansion of Sverrisson's music retained its innate beauty, but layered additional colors and unexpected rhythms to demonstrate just how far a remix can go, while never losing site of its reference points.
Every year, on the final day of Punkt, guests of the festival are taken on a daytime trip that, weather permitting, usually involves a boat trip around the islands off the coast of Kristiansand. The past couple years were marred by inclement weather, but the sun was shining on September 4, the final day of Punkt 2010. And so, a number of speed boats took a group of about 20 people to an island where a sheep farm was still active.
Punkt's guestsmusicians and journalists/photographers, as well as festival volunteers; even Jan Bang who, for the first time in five years, attended and took a little well- deserved break during the festivalwere treated to a simple but lovely lunch of bread, wine and fish soup. A brief speech from a municipal representative shed some more light on Kilden, the new arts center being built that, when it opens in January, 2012, will house Punkt and give it more room to grow.
Kilden Construction Site
More than "just an arts center," however, what makes Kilden specialin Norway and, in many ways, the worldis its plan to house the town's theater company, symphony orchestra, opera and more. By housing these groups under one roof (physical and organizational), it will engender easier collaboration. Kristiansand may only be a town of 80,000, but like Punkt, it clearly thinks big; a small place that continues to find ways to put itself on a larger national and international map. Going by the construction site, on the way back to Kristiansand, it was already clearwith its stunning use of curved wooden panels on the outsidethat this is going to be a stunning structure, on a scale simply unheard of in towns of similar size in North America.
Lunch on the Farm
Attending the lunch also provided an opportunity to experience one of the many unique aspects of Punkt. Most festivals cement their programs far in advance of the event, but Punkt always leaves room for flexibility in the Live Remixes. The 2010 program had nothing but "tba" listed for remixes of both Supersilent and the double concert featuring the improvising duo of guitarist Stian Westerhus and singer Sidsel Endresen, and roots-guitarist Knut Reiersrud. Standing around after lunch, speaking with J.A. Deane, Jan Bang suddenly appeared, saying to Deane, "we have a double show with guitarist Knut Reiersrud, and a duo with Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus; the new guitarist on the scene. Would you be interested in doing the remix?" After about a millisecond of thought, Deane replied, simply, "Sure."
It was that easy; demonstrative of Punkt's open and flexible nature; a festival with no shortage of logistical planning to allow for the rapid change of sets and groups in both the theater and Alpha Room, but equally, an event where decisions can be made on the fly, to encourage collaboration and interaction on a level rarely seen or heard at a music festival.
Traveling off the coast of Kristiansand, Norway
After a leisurely lunch, Punkt's guests were taken back to town, for a little downtime in preparation for Punkt's final night of programming and, in addition to shows already plannedand remixes just decideda surprise that would make Punkt 2010 even more special, more rare.
With the release of 7 (St. Cecilia Music, 2010), Norwegian singer/songwriter Unni Wilhelmsen took a step in a new direction, collaborating with Jan Bang and Erik Honoré to give her compellingly honest songs a different treatment than on her previous six releases, including her breakthrough To Whom It May Concern (Polygram, 1997), recipient of two Norwegian Grammy Awards that year ("Best Female Artist of the Year," "Best Album of the Year"). Surprisingly, when invited to Punkt to perform, rather than collaborating with Bang and Honoré to replicate the programd beats and electro-centric production of the record, she chose to deliver its songs with a largely acoustic group, featuring bassist Lars Danielsson (heard the previous evening in Bang's ...and poppies from Kandahar performance), along with keyboardist David Wallumrød and drummer Anders Engen (also heard the previous night at the Live Remix of Bang's show), and background vocalist Ronny Johnsen.
All of her band mates had performed on 7, but only on selected tracks and with a much different emphasiz. Here, with Wilhelmsen alternating between guitar and piano ("Since I have a big stage, I'm going to use it"), her setconsisting primarily of songs from 7 but with one nod back to her 1997 debutthe group delivered the songs with a similar elegant gentility. Arve Henriksen dropped in to play on the two songs on which he guested on 7the haunting "Pedestrian Slow" and "Orange"both played more directly by the group and, without Bang and Honoré's soft soundscapes and treatments, relying more on the trumpeter's personal voice and inherent lyricism.
Wilhelmsen introduced all the songs with a combination of self-deprecating humor, referring to her partner as the person she "shares an address with," rather than boyfriend, as she described the circumstances surrounding "Oranges," a particularly personal song about the singer/songwriter at her most vulnerable. She was clearly enjoying herself, quickly engaging the audience as she described how the smallest kernel can lead to a song idea, the source for "Pedestrian Slow" being a sign on a subway train in Oslo, "Remain on the train in case of evacuation." Her voice combined confidence and fragility, delivering a version of her set-closer, Joni Mitchell's enduring "Both Sides Now," that actually surpasses her recorded version.
With a relatively spare and direct stage setup and lighting, everything relied on Wilhelmsen's delivery and the support of her group. Danielsson, playing electric bass for most of the set (a rarity, these days), pushed the groove but also acted as a melodic foil, while Wallumrød contributed a soft cushion of textural support and Engen's pliant time sense kept the group focused, but left plenty of room to move. Much like Hanne Hukkelberg's performance at Punkt 2006, Wilhelmsen provided further proof that there are absolutely no stylistic boundaries at Punkt, as she opened the final evening with an honest and immediate singer/songwriter set that set the stage for an evening about to travel from roots music to the furthest extremes of spontaneous improvisation, and more.
Once again, Punkt recruited BBC Radio's Fiona Talkingtonhost of the successful Late Night Junction and curator of numerous British events including the November, 2008 Punkt festival at King's Place, part of the two-week Scene Norway mini-festival, within the purview of the London Jazz Festivalto host Punkt and introduce the performances in the main theatre. As ever, her heartfelt and warm personaand broad musical expertisenot only created artist intros that opened a brief contextual window for the audience, but built, over the course of the festival, a broader perspective on the artists and the festival. In her intro to Wilhelmsen's set, she invited Erik Honoré to accompany her for a brief dialogue, where the Punkt Artistic Co-Director talked about how the festival looks to break down barriers and strengthen foundations for the future. Little did Honoré know that his intro for Wilhelmsensimply, "Ladies and Gentlement...Unni Wilhelmsen"would be the initial grist for a Live Remix to the singer/songwriter's set that would bring a clear sense of humor into the mix.
Of course, it was no surprise that a remix by Mungolian Jet Setthe moniker used by longtime Punkt friend/turntablist Pål "Strangefruit" Nyhus, and his equally longstanding partner in crime, Knut Sævikwould be heavy on the fun factor, especially from Nyhus, whose last words the day after Punkt 2009 ended, were "May the Mung be with you," and who struck a mighty disco pose at his daytime seminar the same year, a discourse on the early days of disco in the 1970s, when it was still an underground movement. Beginning with a sample of Honoré's intro, Mungolian Jet Set proceeded to loop, fragment, pitch shift and twist and turn Honoré's words; eliciting not only a lot of laughter from the packed Alpha Room, but some surprise from Wilhemsen herself, seated on the floor at the front of the house. Wilhemsen, it seems, had no idea that her set was going to be remixed, and for a "remix virgin," it was hard to imagine a better pair of musicians than Nyhus and Sævik to give Wilhemsen her first experience.
Honoré also mentioned, in his onstage dialogue with Talkington, that this year's festival would lay to rest, once and for all, any suggestions that Punkt was only about ambient music. Not that there would be anything wrong with thatand surely a misinformed suggestion when looking back at the festival's past five yearsMungolian Jet Set's remix also laid waste to the claim, as it took Wilhelmsen's music and, with an appropriate degree of reverence and utter disrespect (but in the most loving way possible), moved from Honoré's words to one of Wilhemsen's own introductions ("I have the best job in the world"). Henriksen's trumpet was gradually brought into the mix, along with a minimalism-informed pulse that gave the remix a danceability factor of 11though, with shifts in time and assorted staggered beats, it was dance music for the temporally challenged.
Mungolian Jet Set's Knut Sævik
Given that Mungolian Jet Set is all about remixits We Gave It All Away...Now We Are Taking It Back (Smalltown Supersound, 2009) a whopping double-disc set of remixes featuring a wealth of Norwegian collaborators, including Punkt regulars and past performers such as Nils Petter Molvær, guitarist Eivind Aarset and singer Mari Boineits participation at Punkt is a given. In past years, Mungolian Jet Set held court at the festival's late night Punkt Klubb, but this Live Remix was to be its only official performance this year. Still, as capable as Jet Set is of doing remixes, much of its work takes place in the studio, where there's time to try ideas out before deciding if they're worth putting out to the world. With Live Remix, choices have to be made in a nanosecond, and there's no chance to take them back; as the Jet Set's remix continued, it became clear that both Nyhus and Sævik possessed incredible intuition, and real-time instincts comparable (but different) to Bang and Honoré, when it comes to absorbing a huge palette of sound, grabbing fragments of interest on the fly, and creating a remix that had surprising shape and focus.
In a year where every remix was memorable, Mungolian Jet Set's work with WIlhemsen's music will stand out as the most groove-driven and just plain fun Live Remix of the festival.
For the past couple years, Punkt has been creating double bills of artists that compare and contrast. An acoustic solo set by singer Sidsel Endresen, for example, was paired with a more expansively electronic set from Maja Ratkje. The idea of pairing guitarists Stian Westerhus (in duet with Endresen) and Knut Reirsrud only served to demonstrate how remarkable each was: one, a masterful student of tradition; the other an intentionally irreverent dispenser of all orthodoxy.
Westerhus and Endresen have only begun collaborating recently, but their performance at Molde Jazz Festival, earlier this summer, was a clear shot across the bow; an announcement of a new improvising duo capable of great extremes...and, occasionally, even greater beauty.
From left: Stian Westerhus, Knut Reiersrud
The duo's set at Punkt was, by necessity, shorter than their Molde show, but demonstrated just how far Westerhus and Endresen have come in just a couple of months. Westerhusas usual, with a number of large amplifiers and a pedal setup so complex that it made his absolute command of it all the more incrediblecreated sonic landscapes of jagged, angular beauty, using a regular Gibson hollow body electric and a Dan Electro electric baritone guitar. Endresen, seated way across the stage, may have been distanced physically, but her connection with Westerhus on an instinctive musical level was even more profound than it was at Molde. Her ability to vocalize sounds that really shouldn't be possible with the human voice was pushed to its limits by Westerhus, whose ability to pull otherworldly sounds out of his rig was equally unexpected, unpredictable and unrelenting.
The two found ways to twist and turneach taking cues from the other; pushing and pulling; and giving and taking. Brief solo spots allowed each to drive the improvisation in a new direction, the sum total being an exhilarating example of focused improvisation at its best. But what was most important about the set was the degree of risk-taking going on; this duo is all about chance, but here, with more time spent performing together, they were continually out on the precipice, leaning over into the abyss so far that it was only due to their inherent control that they never actual took the plunge.
Westerhus is clearly the new "enfant terrible" of the guitar, a position supported by his recently released solo record, Pitch Black Star Spangled (Rune Grammofon, 2010); Reiersrud may be a less-known entity, but on the strength of his recent Gitar (Jazzland, 2010) alone, he's an artist deserving of far greater recognition. More conventional, yes; but with a command of his instrument that has allowed him to fit within a multiplicity of musical contexts.
Gitar is a roots-based record, with much to compare it to the soundtrack work of American musical archivist and Buena Vista Social Club (Nonesuch, 1997) creator, Ry Cooder. Some of the darker pieces on the album are reminiscent of Cooder's soundtrack to Wim Wenders' 1984 classic, Paris, Texas, and Reiersruddressed in a funky suit, with a red fedora blocking his face much of the timeopened his short set with an acoustic slide guitar solo piece redolent of that same space. Unlike Cooder, however, and more like his fellow Norwegians, Reiersrud also made judicious use of looping to create a larger landscape for his virtuosic playing.
Reiersrud's roots credibility and sheer comfort onstage became even more evident when he delivered a soft, heartfelt and blues-drenched version of "She's Got the Whole World in Her Hands." A more sophisticated player than Cooder, Reiersrud used alternative tunings, capos and other devices to deliver a set that packed a lot into a short space. A remarkably lithe right handwhether flat-picking, finger-picking or bowing his acoustic guitar to create orchestral breadthwas matched by a left hand that moved around the neck with the kind of comfort that only comes from years of practice and performance. Relaxed, even when he was playing at lightning speed on material that combined blues roots with Norwegian folk traditionalism, it was a perfect contrast to Westerhus and Endresen's set. The duo may have proved the value of dispensing with convention, but Reiersrud demonstrated that, in the right hands, there's nothing constraining about working within it, either.
When Jan Bang invited J.A. Deane to remix the Westerhus and Endresen/Reiersrud double concert, the American live sampler knew nothing of either artist, nor was he familiar with trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær; when Deane made his first Punkt appearance in 2009, it was the first year, since the festival's inception, that Molvær was absent. As of that afternoon, in fact, the decision to ask Molvær to participate had yet to be made. All of which meant that this remix represented the best of Punkt: the bringing together of musicians previously unfamiliar with each other, based on the intuitive feeling, by Bang and/or Honoré, that it would be an inspired combination.
From left: Nils Petter Molvær, J.A. Deane
It was. Most Live Remixes of double concerts look for ways to use both sets, but usually as separate entities. All the more remarkable, then, that Deane heard a connection between two performances that, on the surface, could not have been more different: Westerhus and Endresen completely spontaneous, unconventional and edgy; Reiersrud all about working within structure and tradition. And yet, Deane heard points of confluence in the two sets, and in his remix actually brought Westerhus and Reiersrud together for a virtual duo set that might have been.
Combining Reiersrud's rootsy altered tunings and Westerhus' complete rejection of such devices, Deane created shifting landscapes, over which Molvær judiciously layered his own distinctive lyricism. Without any of his usual devices, Molvær was left to his own acoustic tone and some pure, unaffected melodic ideas. Although it was Molvær who introduced Arve Henriksen to shakuhachi recordings, and the beginning of a search for a new sound for the younger trumpeter, the influence of the Japanese end- blown wooden or bamboo flute on Molvær remains clear and unmistakable; still, his sound remains his own, with a tarter edge, even when his lines approach near-vocal expressiveness. Listening intently to Deane's gradually evolving soundscape, Molvær's discretion was as impressive as the notes he played, as he listened intently for just the right moment.
How a Live Remix begins and how it ends is, perhaps, one of its most challenging aspects: how to know, amongst a group of players, that the time is up and it's time to wrap things up. As Deane began to sample Molvær, and layer his own lines beneath the trumpeter, it was this mix of in-the-moment playing with fragments from the main theater performance that led inevitably to a logical conclusion, as Deane slowly faded to black, and Molvær created a definitive ending with a very spare, very simple descending line that brought the remix to a perfect end.
Punkt may be, in terms of size, a small festival; but it's one that has, since inception, been gaining an international reputation in leaps and bounds. Brian Eno attended the festival in 2008, and contributed his 77 Million Paintings for Punkt, multimedia installation, to Punkt Kunst, at the S&#248;rlandets Kunstmuseum; British avant-singer David Sylvian, who already has ties to Punkt through work with some of its regularsnot to mention releasing Jan Bang's ...and poppies from Kandahar on his SamadhiSound label, contributing both the album and track titlesis rumored to be interested in attending in a future year. But nobody would have expected an ex-member of British rock group Led Zeppelin to be in attendance at Punkt, much less performing at it.
John Paul Jones
It was inevitable, however, after Zeppelin bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones attended Punkt in London, in 2008. Excited by what he saw and heard, he decided to make the trip to Kristiansand, initially as an attendee. But, bringing his bass and a laptop computer along, he offered to perform a short opening set somewhere during the program; setting up at the same time as Norwegian noise improv group Supersilent on the afternoon of the last day, however, one thing led to another, and the next thing everyone knew, Jones was not only going to do his opening set for Supersilent; he was going to sit in with them as well.
Those only familiar with Jones' Zeppelin work might find this an odd combination, but Jones has been a sonic experimenter long after Zeppelin was over; since the group's demise in 1980, Jones has collaborated with artists including Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, R.E.M. and Sonic Youth. At the turn of the millennium, Jones released two albums that focused on his multi-instrumentalism and, collaborating on one of them, with King Crimson co-founder Robert Fripp, he found himself on tour co- headlining with Crimson. He's been involved in soundtrack work as well, and it was from a score to a dance piece that Jones culled the solo bass performance that opened Supersilent's set.
Of course, armed with a laptop computerthis was Punkt, after all this was no conventional bass solo, as Jones began with relatively normal textures, but gradually moved to greater extremes, using ring modulation to create oblique harmonies, overdrive to create dense textures, and assorted other effects to create a piece that ebbed and flowed, building to periodic climaxes only to settle and begin the climb once again. Beautiful chords gave way to angular expressionism, as Jones delivered a short set that, for those unfamiliar with his post-Zep work, must have been a shock to the system, but set a clear context for the collaboration with Supersilent to follow.
Despite Jones' inherent star power, when Supersilent took to the stage, he became just another member of the band; with Henriksen beginning the set on trumpet, Ståle Storløkken on synth, and Helge Sten on guitar, Jones moved towards the back of the stage, where he stayed for most of a set that went far longer than its allotted time clearly everyone was having a blast.
From left: John Paul Jones, Arve Henriksen
Henriksen, in particular, seemed to be enjoying playing drums during a set that went from thunderous climax to thunderous climax; and who wouldn't? Henriksen may be no John Bonham, but he grooved harder than usual during the first extended improvisation, as he locked in, for brief moments, with Jones. Still, while Supersilent may be about free improvisation with rock energy and volume, Jones' participation did nothing to slow down the group's remarkable chemistry. It sounded, in fact, as if they'd been playing together for years, as Jones moved around the neck to create, deep, visceral and snaking lines beneath Sten's sonic manipulations, Storløkken textural excursions and otherworldly electronic melodism, and Henriksenwho moved from kit to trumpet to falsetto and harsher growl to pocket trumpet.
Again, Tord Knudsen's lighting complemented the performance perfectly; in many ways, Supersilent has always been about anonymityits releases bearing identical designs other than the primary color, no personnel listings other than producer and engineer, where and when the album was recorded, and song titles that are nothing more than the number of the album and the track number. Even watching the group in performance, outside of some of the obvious sonics, there was a lot going on which could not be easily attributed to any one member of the group. Improvisations were collective, with no real delineated solos (even though everyone did, without direct intent, draw specific focus at different times throughout the set), and so Knudsen's lighting, rather than illuminating the group members, actually went even further to blend them into the visual backdrop; Henriksen, in fact, sometimes more visible on the rear projection than he ever was with direct lighting.
All of which makes Supersilent a unique experience. But with the group's demonstration seminar earlier in the festival providing some perspective on what they do and how they do it, the group's evening performance with Jones, on the last day of Punkt 2010, was a definitive moment in the history of the festival. Jones' appearance at Punkt 2010 will undoubtedly place the festival on an entirely different radar; one that will only increase its international visibility and allow it to expand even further into areas previously unreachable.
For the final remix of Punkt 2010, the festival invited the figure who is, perhaps more than any, the spiritual godfather of Punkt: Fourth World progenitor, Jon Hassell. In recent years, Hassell has been a regular Punkt participantrecruiting Bang, in fact, for his most recent album Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street (ECM, 2009) and his touring group, Maarifa Street. Bang and Hassell had just returned from Iceland, immediately before the festival, where they performed a duet in Reykjavik, and so it seems almost serendipitous that an Icelandic expat, bassist Skúli Sverrisson (now living in New York for many years), was also on-hand. Add Erik Honoré, and the result was a combination of old and new friends, coming together to remix a completely unexpected performance featuring a first-time collaboration.
Form left: Jon Hassell, Skúli Sverrisson
While Supersilent can approach beauty (albeit often form a very oblique perspective), the Live Remix posted a far gentler alternative to its incendiary main stage performance. Like most of the performances on Punkt's final day, The Alpha Room was packed to the rafters, this time with people curious to hear how Supersilent's one-of-a-kind performance could be reshaped and reinterpreted. More static than Supersilent's show, there was, nevertheless, a disturbing undercurrent, often rumbling underneath Hassell's pitch-shifted trumpet, with a staggered electric pulse providing forward motion as Sverrisson created his own undercurrent from a processed serious of repeated hammer- ons.
Hassell remixing Henriksen is a profound enough idea; the 2007 Live Remix, where Henriksen was invited to sit in with Hassell, was moving enough to literally bring some of its participants to tears afterwards; here, with Henriksen one step removed, it was moving as well, but in a different fashion, as Hassell worked with the feeds he was receiving from Bang and Honoré, the energy of the remix lifting, when Henriksen's drum segments were brought into play.
Watching Bang and Honoré, on opposite sides of the floorthere's no stage in The Alpha Roomonly serves to cement the kind of empathy shared by the two. Bang, as ever, was the more visual of the two, moving to pulses that were clear and others that only he could hear; Honoré was almost completely motionless; the only sign of anything happening, the occasional slight smile, when things were going right.
And they were clearly going right during this relatively brief remix. Even Hassell normally looking self-absorbed, although the interaction with his band mates on a deep, near-subconscious level was never less than crystal clearcame to smile at one point during the remix. It was a fitting end to Punkt 2010's series of Live Remixes. With Live Remixesespecially those that, perhaps, aren't as successful as the artists would likethe journey is always worth it, even when the destination isn't; but for Punkt 2010, and its consistently strong remixes, the destinations ended up being equally valuable.
When he played with his trio at Molde this year, as part of his Artist in Residence series, Nils Petter Molvær was down a member, with regular drummer Audun Kleive unable to attend. Sometimes, however, disadvantage can turn to advantage, as substitute drummer Erland Dahlen lit a serious fire under a group that, since the trumpeter recruited guitarist Stian Westerhus to replace the departing Eivind Aarset, has already upped the ante on energy, edge...and volume. For the closing concert at Punkt 2010, Molvær was able to bring his regular working trio, and the difference was palpable. Not better, not worse; simply different.
From left: Stian Westerhus, Nls Petter Molvær, Audun Kleive
There was something raw and unbridled about Dahlen that worked particularly well with Westerhus; Kleive, a more accomplished player, has a history that dates back to guitarist Terje Rypdal's renowned Chasers group of the 1980s, countless gigs touring around Europe with names such as guitarist Mike Stern and reed player Charles Lloyd, seminal work with Norwegian keyboardist Jon Balke and Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur, and his own recordings, including the stunning Bitt (Jazzland, 1997) and Generator X (Jazzland, 1999). The more seasoned Kleive brought a more orchestral percussive sensibility to Molvær's trio; no shortage of energy and groove, either, but in a more polished fashion that contrasted with Westerhus' jagged and seemingly unschooled approach (seemingly, because Westerhus is an educated musician, proof positive that in order to really break the rules you first have to know them). With a much larger kit than Dahlen's, Kleive's textural options were far greater, and at the start of the set, in fact, he stood, rather than being seated, at his drums, playing his kit more as if he were a percussionist in an orchestra than in a small improvising jazz group.
Unschooled he may appear, but Westerhus' reach is also orchestral, using his array of foot pedalsswitched on and off with near reckless abandon, adjusting settings, and bringing them together in permutations and combinationsas much as he used unorthodox right hand techniques, scratching, scraping and bowing his strings as often as he picked them. In this constantly shifting landscape, culling material from past Molvær albums including the stellar Hamada (Sula, 2009), was so radically altered as to be almost unrecognizable ("the old stuff doesn't sound anything like the old stuff," he said in an All About Jazz interview, earlier this summer. "It's funny, because I don't really know which albums the tunes are from, so it's funny when you play a venue packed with old fans and Nils Petter starts playing a tune, and they go 'whaaaaaaaa!' and it's like, 'OK, it's an old tune, and they didn't clap because I'd stopped playing [laughs].") Westerhus and Kleive locked into some thundering, grungy grooves, giving Molvær a serious kick out of any comfort zone he might consider.
Westerhus also said in his interview that "I'm kicking Nils Petter's ass a lot harder, and what he says is that, especially earlierwhen they had a lot of DJs and beats and grooves going onhe could play a bit and then sit back a bit. Now he can't sit back at allhe's just really forced into playing a lot more. And it's so free now; we play tunes but, at the same time, if you see it from the other side, I only have one groove, one key and three chords that I have to do, so I can force Nils Petter into any corner I want, and he can force me into any corner he wants, which is great. You really need to be razor sharp when you go onto the stage, which is fantastic."
If Westerhus is kicking Molvær's ass, it's just as clear that the trumpeter is pushing his trio mates. As lyrical as ever, Molvær's evolution as a trumpeter has been a remarkable trip from his early days in the more acoustic, structure-based music of Masqualero, a stunning 1980s/1990s band co-led by bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen. If Masqualero taught Molvær about collective improvisation around a structured context, the form of his latest trio is as loose as it's ever been. Continuous sets move from song to song, but with long stretches of improvisation linking them in new ways each and every night. And with Molvær spending almost as much time singing into the bell of his trumpet as he was blowing into its mouthpieceharmonizing, looping and layering these vocal textures to create rich washes of soundhe's far more consistently engaged. Yes, there are passages where he steps back to let Westerhus shape a new sonic premise, or Kleive find a new way to a groove; but this trio is a far harder-working and harder- edged group than any of his previous groups.
Nils Petter Molvær
The trio is also more overtly exploratory, rarely (if ever) repeating itself; in a set that lasted a little more than an hour, Molvær, Westerhus and Kleive made clear that the trumpeter has moved on significantly since his breakthrough record, Khmer (ECM, 1997). Molvær has, in fact, got some studio time booked to finally record this trio, and while it will likely be some time before it sees the light of day, after performance like this, one can only wait in eager anticipation.
And so, another year, another Punkt. With a series of remarkable performances and Live Remixes that ran the gamut from contemporary classical composition to the farthest reaches of extemporaneous creation, there was a lot to recommendand precious little to criticizeabout a festival now wrapping up its sixth year, with at least one event that will put it on a different map than it's been on before. Nobody planned for John Paul Jones to come to Punkt, but there's little doubt that it will provide a significant push in visibility, when planning for Punkt 2011. Had he not attended, had he not delivered a brief opening set, and had he not sat in with Supersilent, Punkt 2010 would still have managed to surpass previous years. But it's impossible to ignore the significance of a festival that, at best, can seat 550 people at any one time, yet is capable of attracting the kind of name power it is beginning to entice, year after year.
But the beauty of it all is that none of this will deflect from Punkt's primary mission; instead, it will simply enable the festival to grow into new areas, through the vast potential of an ever-expanding network of people who believe in that mission.
Attending the jam-packed post-Punkt party at K35up the street from the Agder Theatre, a location that served food and drink for guests of the festival throughout its three-day runit became clear just how much this festival is about building on relationships. From journalists who came from as far away as Canada and Japan, and musicians spread even more widely across the globe, to a dedicated staff of festival volunteers, many of whom have been with the festival since inception, it was an opportunity for everyone to let their hair down after a festival that managed, as Punkt has done year-after-year, to surpass previous editions and set a new high bar for the year to come.
The party went on until well beyond sunriseeven considering that sunrise, at this time of year in Kristiansand, was still very, very earlyand there were, no doubt, more than a few post-Punkt hangovers. But when it takes more than an hour just to say goodbye to all the old friends from past years, as well as new ones forged in just the past couple days, it's clear evidence of the growing importanceand reachof Punkt.
Punkt may only happen once a year in Kristiansandand, perhaps, a couple more times in other locations like Tallinn, Estonia, in 2011but Punkt is something that remains a conscious part of those who have been a part of it, all year around. Punkt isn't just a festival; it's a concept, a philosophy, an aesthetic, a family. And families aren't just put away because they'll not be seen for another year; they remain in the heart and the mind.
If Punkt could be a model for other festivals, it wouldn't be in terms of logistics, sound, lighting or even the music itselfthough the way this small festival that thinks big operates, it could easily teach much larger festivals a thing or three. What Punkt can teach other festivals is that the best, most organic way to grow is through community, through shared goals and common ideals. Capture the heart and mind, and everything else follows.
Visit Sidsel Endresen, Supersilent, Maja Ratkje, Jan Bang, Håkon Kornstad, David Wallumrød, Unni Wilhelmsen, , Stian Westerhus, Knut Reiersrud, Nils Petter Molvær, John Paul Jones, Audun Kleive and Punkt Festival on the web.
Page 1, 9, 11: John Kelman
Page 2, 3: Jan Hangeland
Page 4, Top: Jan Hangeland
Page 4, All Other Photos: John Kelman
Page 5, Top and Bottom: Jan Hangeland
Page 5, All Other Photos: John Kelman
Page 6, Top: Jan Hangeland
Page 6, All Other Photos: John Kelman
Page 7, All Other Photos: Jan Hangeland
Page 7, Top and Bottom: John Kelman
Page 7, All Other Photos: Jan Hangeland
Page 8, Top: Jan Hangeland
Page 8, All Other Photos: John Kelman
Page 10, Erik Honoré and Nils Petter Molvær Trio: Jan Hangeland
Page 10, All Other Photos: John Kelman