Punkt 2011: Kristiansand, Norway, September 1-3, 2011
While travel woes meant missing the opening night of Punkt 2011, and the premiere of David Sylvian's installation at the Sørlander Art Museumwhere John Tilbury, Philip Jeck, Evan Parker, Eivind Aarset, Sidsel Endresen and Arve Henriksen accompanied readings by poets Paal-Helge Haugen and Nils Christian Moe-Repstad (a Punkt regular), all in concert with Sylvian's audiovisual installation (visuals by Atsushi Fukui)a second performance on Saturday, September 3, meant those unable to get a seat for the opening could still attend, and see the installation, but with the interaction of a different set of musicians.
In a stark venue where the image of a hermaphrodite rose above the end of the room, which had been set up as a performance space, Evan Parker returned for an opening solo that, combined with his work the previous evening, demonstrated just how adaptable the saxophonist can be to any context. With Sylvian's installationfounded on the 18-minute piece, "when we return you won't recognize us" that makes up the second disc of Died in the Wool, an ultimately repeating sequence moving from gentle washes to sudden punctuationsParker's 20-minute set was an exercise in deep listening both on the part of the musician and his audience, who, largely seated on the floor in the small room (holding, at most, 100 people), watched, enraptured, as Parker slowly unfolded the narrative of his set; a story within a story.
Slowly walking away from the centre of the performance space, Parker gradually faded to black as Ingar Zach slowly assumed dominance. With the same large bass drum used in his previous evening's performance with Dans les Arbres, it was possible to see and hear his own contributions to that group more clearly. For some, a single large drum would have limited potential, but for Zach, there seemed no end to what was possible. With one end of a drumstick on the skin, with his hand wrapped around it, he slowly pulled on it, down towards the drum, creating a low end sound that, through the PA system, became a massive, in-the-gut rumble. With a series of small bells being bowed (in addition to bowing the side of the drum), plus a variety of mechanical devices skittering across the skin and his own hands and sticks, Zach's segment entered at a different point than Parker's, and consequently assumed its own shape.
Guitarist Stian Westerhus concluded the performance with his usual combination of big amps and multitude of foot pedals. The guitarist has seemingly burst onto the scene in the past couple years, despite being around for awhilea relatively recent recruit to Nils Petter Molvær's trio, finally heard on record with the just-released Baboon Moon (Sula, 2011), in addition to working with Puma and Monolithic, releasing his own solo record, the superb Pitch Black Star Spangled (Rune Grammofon, 2010) and collaborating with Sidsel Endresen in one of the most exploratory and exciting duos happening at the moment. This is his second appearance at Punkt, following his duo performing with Endresen last year. The only predictable thing about a Westerhus solo performance is its sheer unpredictability; here, however, the guitarist was really in duo with Sylvian's installation, and so, while his unconventional playing stylebowing, scraping, scratching, slapping and hitting the strings through a massive array of effectsremained as mindboggling as ever, having a context from which to work did push him, at times, in slightly different directions than he might have gone, had he been entirely on his own.
Westerhus' tendency to play loudwith all four amplifiers turned up to elevendid, at times, overwhelm the installation, but for the most part he worked with Sylvian's music, proving yet again that beauty and extemporaneous extremes can coexist in the same sentence. As a kind of figurative ending to Sylvian's curation of the evening before, this trio of Parker, Zach and Westerhus did, in fact, belie certain misconceptions that this kind of music must inherently be unapproachable. Yes, some of it can reach levels of cathartic aggression, but there's absolutely no reason why it can't inhabit the same space as gentle beauty. Freedom is, after all, the ability to create in the moment, with unfettered and unconstrained abandon; but, as Sylvian and his chosen artists capably demonstrated, that very freedom allows for the creation of profound beauty and vivid lyricism, even in a context that, more often than not, eschews conventions of form and melody, harmony and rhythm,.
As often happens at Punkt, artists who've worked together in other combinationsor have wanted to work together but haven't found the right circumstancesare brought together in either first-time encounters or, at least, first contact in a specific lineup. Another signature of Punkt is that every year, a particular show emerges as the sleeper hit of the festival, and while some of the other high-profile showsin particular, Sylvian's Plight and Premonition and Arve Henriksen's soon-to-come Cartography, Special Editionwere sure to impress, this year's unexpected surprise hit was the trio of percussionist Marilyn Mazur, Jan Bang and trumpeter Per Jørgensen, that opened Punkt's final evening in the main hall of the Agder Theatre.
From left: Jan Bang, Marilyn Mazur, Per Jørgensen
Perhaps it shouldn't have come as a surprise. Neither Mazur nor Jørgensen have been at Punkt before, but both have intersected with the Punkt family either directly or indirectly. Mazur performed as part of pianist Ketil Bjørnjstad's Antonioni Project at Molde Jazz 2010, where she played with Eivind Aarsetand Aarset has been a member of the percussionist's Future Songs group since 1994, when Small Labyrinths (ECM, 1997) was recorded; and Jørgensen was a member of Mazur's Pulse Unit, which released Circular Chant (Storyville) nearly twenty years ago, in 1994.
Jørgensen, a longtime member of Jon Balke's Magnetic North Orchestraand, more recently, the Magnetic Book project that played one of its first gigs at the Oslo Jazz Festival, just a few weeks agois one of those players who can be drop-kicked into any situation, and become a complete and immediately seamless part of it. When he performed Kuara: Psalms and Folk Songs (ECM, 2010) at the 2010 Tampere Jazz Happening, with pianist Samuli Mikkonen and drummer Markku Ounaskari, he may have been the Finnish duo's invited guest at the outset of the project, but he was ultimately the trio's charismatic core, enticing and, at times, demanding of his partners and the audience in ways that were absolutely captivating. Few are able to get across the absolute joy of music-making the way Jørgensen can...and does.
In the all-improvised context of this trio, communication was essential, and it was immediately evident from the very start, when Mazur hit a sharp punctuation that both rallied the players and grabbed the audience's attention. Surrounded on all sides by a massive percussion rig that included just about anything imaginable that could be hit with a stick or struck with a hand, Mazur could, at times, be as much a performance artist as a musician, the relatively diminutive percussionist literally leaping into the air as she attacked a large cymbal or massive drum with absolute fervor. Given that much of her rig is provided onsite, meaning that it changes with most performances, her knowledge of what was there, and where it was, was almost as impressive as the way in which she used it. The set may have begun in relative abstraction, but it didn't take long before a pulse emerged. And while there seemed, on the surface, to be a lack of melodic and especially harmonic instrumentation with only Jørgensen's voice and trumpet, Bang proved his mettle as a soundscapist by bringing both existing samples to bear, as well as manipulating real-time samples of Mazur and Jørgensen to further expand the aural landscape.
Up to this point, Bang's involvement in performances at Punkt 2011 had been considerably freer and edgier affairs, with little in the way of overt rhythmthough, as always, Bang seemed to move to his own internal time. Here, however, with Mazur and Jørgensen, while the music was no less open-ended, it was driven by strong grooves that shifted seamlessly throughout; the smile on Bang's face certainly suggesting that he was particularly enjoying the chance to work in a more decidedly rhythmic contextand, with these two players.
Or perhaps it was just the flat out fun everyone was having, as smiles were everywhere throughout the 45-minute set. Here, Jørgensen spent more time singing than playing trumpetranging from a high, pure falsetto singing soft melodies, to cathartic wails and near-primal screams that seemed to fit especially well in the context of this pulse-driven set, with Mazur joining Jørgensen later when a simple, chant-like melody emerged to provide even more proof that it's absolutely possible to draw form from the ether.
Elsewhere, Mazur came out from behind her large rig to play a clay pot on a stand at the front of the stage, where she had direct and unobstructed eye contact with both Bang and Jørgensen. Facing Jørgensen, who was also playing a small hand drum, the two entered an exciting trade-off, while Bang's sonic washes and real-time expansion of his band mates' music turned the set into an organic, breathing example of spontaneous composition that was a clear highlight of Punkt 2011. As is the case with all Punkt performances, this show was being recorded; and while it's true that there is a lot of material from Punkt's seven years that would be great to releaseother than Live Remixes Vol. 1, the only other show to see full release was British composer Gavin Bryars' Live at Punkt (GB, 2010)Mazur's show with Bang and Jørgensen is one that especially cries out for issue in some form.