Trondheim Jazz Festival: May 9-13, 2012
Kent first came to attention in 1997 with Close Your Eyes (Candid), but her career took a decided leap when she signed with Blue Note in 2007 for Breakfast on the Morning Tram (2007) and, in particular, a 2010 all-French follow-up, Raconte Moi (2010), an album that reflected the New York-born, now England-resident's broader concerns, both artistically and linguistically (she has a Masters degree in Comparative Literature, after studying French, Italian and German).
While Norwegian isn't a language in Kent's arsenal, she still managed a multilingual set, singing in English, French and, for a mid-set shift, a taste of Brazil, with the singer sitting down and contributing some nylon-string guitar accompaniment to a quartet that, in addition to husband/musical director/saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, also included fellow Englishmen Graham Harvey (piano), Jeremy Brown (bass) and Matt Skelton (drums). Kent and her group took full advantage of a relatively rare opportunity to play in the more intimate, club-like surroundings of a venue like Dokkhuset, the singer amiably engaging her audience with plenty of between-song stories to tell throughout a set culled from recent albums, including the soon-to-be-released Dreamer (Blue Note, 2012), her first-ever live recording.
Across the way from Dokkhuset and situated just feet from the Nidelva River that snakes through the town and empties into the TrondheimsfjordNorway's third-longest fjord at 130 km in length and reaching a depth, in parts, of over 600 metersthe upstairs Blæst is normally not a jazz venue, instead largely favoring alternative rock, metal, funk bands and more. Still, it was a suitable venue for the Trondheim Jazz Festival, capable of squeezing a couple of hundred people in on a standing room basis, though more often than not the music brought to the venue was not the "get up and dance" kind, even of a jazzier variety. But like Dokkhuset, it's a fine venue, with a good sound system and, for the most part, good sight lines.
Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire's career has been on a rapid upward trajectory, first, as a sideman for people like keyboardist Alan Pasquawhose post-Miles Davis fusion of The Antisocial Club (Cryptogrammophone, 2007) was a surprise hit and one of the best releases of 2007, in no small part due to Akinmusire's stunning performanceand more recently for his own recordings, like his 2011 Blue Note debut (and sophomore disc as a leader), When The Heart Emerges Glistening.
Still on the shy side of 30 and recording for a high profile label like Blue Note might suggest an artist attempting to reach a large audience with easily accessible music. Akinmusire made clear, however, as he charged out of the gate with a powerful modal opener driven hard by bassist Harish Raghavan and powerhouse drummer Justin Brown (who both play on When The Heart), that it was his goal to challenge his audience as much as himself. Introducing the band, which also included Sam Harrisa pianist who was not on Akinmusire's recording but is clearly someone to watchAkinmusire thanked the crowd for listening, suggesting that, perhaps, he's encountering some difficulties from those looking for an easier-on-the-ears experience.
An experience that anyone who has heard When The Heart Emerges Glistening knows is simply not going to happen. That's not to suggest Akinmusire can't be lyrical or approachable, with a mid-set number that began a capella proving the trumpeter's conception may be unorthodox, but that his capabilities, both technical and musical, are broad enough to comfortably traverse any terrain. Still, for the most part, with a combination of group interplay working on the subtlest of levels at one moment, a stunning display of collective firepower the next, it's clear that Akinmusire has no interest in compromise. Whether blowing hot liquid linessuggesting a signature of swoops and swirls as personal to the young trumpeter as fellow horn man Kenny Wheeler's characteristic leaps into the stratosphereor delivering through-composed miniatures with interpretive aplomb, Akinmusire trumped his admittedly excellent studio recording, proving he's even more impressive live than on record, with a group that's evolving so quickly it needs to be documented. What Akinmusire has in mind for his next record is unknown, but he could do a lot worse than consider a live recording with this quartetor, better yet, his quintet, when he's able to add incendiary saxophonist Walter Smith III to the date.
Since first emerging in 2008 with the one-two punch of a sublime performance at the Punkt Festival and the release of its 2007 debut, Doors. Keys. (AIM, 2008), Norway's Splashgirl has gone from strength to strength, honing an approach to compositional development and interpretive in-the-moment improvisation that, for players this young, is uncharacteristically patient. Young they may be (the oldest member has just turned 30 in 2012), but pianist Andreas Stensland Løwe, bassist Jo Berger Myhre and drummer Andreas Lønmo Knudsrød are all busy on the Norwegian scene in a variety of projects, though it certainly appears as though Splashgirl is a significant priority to all of them. The trio has released two additional records in the ensuing years2009's Arbor and 2011's Pressure, both on the emergent Hubro labeland is in the process of trying to put together a first-ever North American tour.
Until then, North American audiences must live vicariously through Splashgirl's recordings or, if chance will have it, with the occasional opportunity to experience the trio live somewhere in Europe. Pulling off the kind of music Splashgirl makes at four in the afternoon is no mean feat: this is music that, slow, dark, brooding and subtle, has more of a late-night vibe to it, but the group managed to turn day into night at Dokkhuset, for its 70-minute set.
While improvisation is part of what Splashgirl does, its recent music is largely through-composed, though the manner in which it develops speaks to a different kind of spontaneity; one where the roadmap is lain out, to be sure, but the exact manner in which the trio travels from point A to point B changes from performance to performance. While its recordings have invariably included both guests and more extensive instrumentation from Splashgirlwith Løwe playing guitars and zithers, Myhre augmenting his double bass with kantele and Knudsrød including vibraphone and zitherlive, Spashgirl strips down to its fundamentals: piano, bass and drums, with Løwe adding only some additional electronics and the occasional synth.
Drones are often a foundation to Splashgirl's music, and the set opener began with a quiet yet gut-rumbling one, over which Løwe patiently layered a series of gradually evolving lines. While the pieces weren't announced, it was clear that much of the performance was taken from Pressure, including "Ravine," which sounded very much how minimalist composer Philip Glass might write, were he to score for a piano trio, with Myhre's rapid bowing creating a counterpoint to Løwe's pulse-driven chords and Knudsrød's suggestive percussion work.
Splashgirl performances are less about seeing and more about feeling, with moments of beauty emerging like the sun through the clouds. Splashgirl's influences are many, from post-rock groups like Sigur Rós and free improvisers like Paul Bley to the Norwegian chamber jazz of Trygve Seim and classical composers like Erik Satie and Morton Feldman. But five years on, Splashgirl continues to hone a personal sound, one that relies on spontaneity, but always in service of music whose structure may unfold at an almost impossibly unhurried pace that demands an attention and commitment paradoxical to our sound-byte world, but which always pays greater dividends for it.