Hakon Kornstad: Symphonies In My Head (2011)
The third consecutive solo album from Hakon Kornstad is an exemplary, creative work. The Norwegian saxophonist expands an already remarkable palette of sounds and technique from Single Engine (Jazzland, 2007) and Dwell Time (Jazzland, 2009) with musical references that continue to grow and surprise. As before, he manages to turn his improvisations into small symphonies, arresting in their structure and deep emotional impact.
As with Dwell Time, Kornstad uses the excellent acoustics of Oslo's Sofienberg Church as his recording studio, opening Symphonies In My Head with "Pearlfisher," an improvisation based on an aria from Georges Bizet's opera Les pêcheurs de perles that marks his growing interest in operatic repertoire. Using loops as a percussive effect that intensifies his extended techniques on tenor sax, the beautiful melody draws on elements that would not be alien to the sonic landscape of avant-garde British sax innovator, John Butcher. Percussive loops also form the basis of the cinematic improvisation "Damscus," a mysterious, peaceful story of the Middle Eastern city in imagined era. Soft, looped percussion sounds also underscore "Sansula," based on the kalimba (European adaption of the African thumb piano), featuring Kornstad's meditative work on flutonettea flute with a sax mouthpiece.
On "ABA," Kornstad loops the fluid tenor delivery of a seductive theme, creating an entrancing polyphonic kaleidoscope effect that lingers in mind long after the piece has ended. "Aire" is a demanding orchestral piece that uses Kornstad's looped breaths into the mouthpieces, the sax keys as percussive aids, and even more processed elements incorporated as the piece gains more sonic layers and power. The simple, minimalist "Mandal" uses Kornstad's natural breaths to form its spare structure, thus avoiding the strictly repetitive and worn out symmetry of most minimalist compositions.
"Flutter" begins with looped folksy flutes, using breathing, humming and singing reminiscent of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, but used to create a driving pulse for Kornstad's well-crafted tenor solo. The closing "Plystre," is another minimalist piece, albeit more romantic. The addition of Kornstad's processed choral vocals and gentle whistle serves as a fitting closure to this cycle of symphonic improvisations, making it one of the best releases of 2011.
Track Listing: Pearlfisher; Damsacus; Sansula; ABA; Aire; Mandal; Flutter; Plystre.
Personnel: Håkon Kornstad: tenor and bass saxophones; flutes, flutonette, sansula, voice, looper.