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Live Reviews

Trondheim Jazz Festival: May 9-13, 2012

By Published: May 28, 2012
May 10: Allan Holdsworth / Jimmy Haslip / Virgil Donati

While he's been hitting the road with increasing regularity in recent years, guitarist Allan Holdsworth
Allan Holdsworth
Allan Holdsworth
b.1948
guitar
hasn't always done himself the greatest favors. Truly one of the most innovative guitarists of the past four decades, beginning in his native England with groups like trumpeter Ian Carr
Ian Carr
Ian Carr
1933 - 2009
trumpet
's Nucleus and Soft Machine
Soft Machine
Soft Machine

band/orchestra
, but crossing to the United States in the mid-1970s for work with drummer Tony Williams
Tony Williams
Tony Williams
1945 - 1997
drums
' New Lifetime, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty
Jean-Luc Ponty
Jean-Luc Ponty
b.1942
violin
and others, his unique legato approach and almost impenetrable guitar voicings have influenced generations of guitarists—many of whom, like Eddie Van Halen, have achieved greater fame and fortune. Holdsworth has long been his own worst enemy, a painfully self-critical player who now takes so long to record and release a record that his studio follow-up to 2000's superb The Sixteen Men of Tain (Globe) has yet to be completed. Thankfully, a live set from a tour with New Lifetime keyboardist Alan Pasqua
Alan Pasqua
Alan Pasqua

piano
, bassist Jimmy Haslip
Jimmy Haslip
Jimmy Haslip
b.1951
bass, electric
and Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
1940 - 1993
guitar, electric
alum drummer Chad WackermanBlues for Tony (Moonjune, 2009)—and recent reissues of the guitarist's Hard Hat Area (1993) and the more closely jazz-centered None Too Soon (1996, both reissued by MoonJune) have kept his name alive.



But while live has always been the place to witness Holdsworth at his best—the guitarist's 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival trio show with Wackerman and bassist Jimmy Johnson and his subsequent visit to Gatineau, Canada with Johnson and drummer Gary Husband
Gary Husband
Gary Husband
b.1960
drums
being two fine examples—his innate self-criticism has always remained a constant, so much so that the guitarist has been known to introduce a song by saying, "hopefully we won't fuck this one up as much as we did the last one." Holdsworth's recent touring with Haslip and drummer Virgil Donati has, however, seen something new: an Allan Holdsworth who is clearly enjoying himself more than he has in years. A recent video stream from his Iridium performance in New York City revealed a guitarist who was actually smiling, and there were plenty of smiles going around during his Trondheim Jazz Festival show, too.

Holdsworth's set list hasn't changed much—with plenty of the usual suspects including his New Lifetime hit, "Fred," an even more incendiary "Protocosmos" and "Water on the Brain, Pt. 2," the latter a fiery solo feature for Haslip—but clearly both the bassist and, in particular, the unfettered, equally virtuosic and effervescent Donati are pushing the guitarist into nuclear territory he's not seen in decades. His silky tone and legato approach—which largely eliminates all attack from his instrument—has, in recent years, been honed to the extent that he'd lost some of his edge, but not with this trio. Blinding lines, with cascading runs navigating complex changes with a new kind of fire announced a renewed Holdsworth at Dokkhuset. He's always taken chances in performance, but he appeared more at peace with the idea that those very risks might not always yield perfect results.

Haslip—on a one-year hiatus from his regular group, Yellowjackets
Yellowjackets
Yellowjackets

band/orchestra
—is a fitting foil for Holdsworth, and brings a different kind of virtuosity to the table than Jimmy Johnson (who's no slouch either). But the combination of Haslip and Donati seems to be the perfect combination for Holdsworth 2012, a guitarist whose unmistakable voice and position as a guitarist's guitarist should have already made him a bigger name on the popular front. Hopefully this renewed, reinvigorated and clearly happy Holdsworth will be able to finish up the album he's been working on for so long, and continue building the momentum being generated by this high octane fusion trio.

May 11: Food, feat. Prakash Sontakke and Petter Vågan

For a group that ultimately found itself whittled down to a duo, the Anglo/Norwegian collaboration Food has managed to live on well past any suspected "best buy" date. While saxophonist Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
b.1964
sax, tenor
and drummer Thomas Stronen could have easily functioned as a duo after the departure of trumpeter Arve Henriksen
Arve Henriksen
Arve Henriksen
b.1968
trumpet
and bassist Mats Eilertsen
Mats Eilertsen
Mats Eilertsen
b.1975
bass
—and did so, in fact, with their performance at the 2006 Punkt Festival—the group has subsequently evolved into something of an experimental improvising collective, where Strønen and Ballamy call upon friends old and new for performances and recordings. Recent years have seen the intrepid duo—whose incorporation of electronics into the mix is so organic as to seem as natural an extension of their music-making as their irrefutable acumen on their more conventional acoustic instruments—tour and record with everyone from pianist Maria Kannegaard and trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer
Nils Petter Molvaer
Nils Petter Molvaer
b.1960
trumpet
to guitarists Eivind Aarset
Eivind Aarset
Eivind Aarset

guitar
and Christian Fennesz.

Food's Trondheim performance at Blæst continued a collaboration begun earlier in the month in Oslo as part of the Conexions series, curated by BBC Radio's Fiona Talkington. Indian lap steel guitarist/vocalist Prakash Sontakke was back from the group's show at Victoria, but replacing the unavailable Aarset was guitarist (and Trondheim Jazz Festival programmer) Petter Vågan. Vågan may be a new name to many, but much like his brother, bassist Ole Morten Vågan (of Mellow Motif
Mellow Motif
Mellow Motif
b.1985
vocalist
, The Deciders and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra
b.2000
band/orchestra
), Vågan is a hardworking participant in half a dozen bands, ranging from Juxtaposed and Scent of Soil, with well-known saxophonist Tore Brunborg
Tore Brunborg
Tore Brunborg
b.1960
saxophone
, to Marvel Machine, whose debut CD is also the first release from Vågan's new label, Gigafon. Sontakke will also be a name new to most, but not for long as he'll be on Food's forthcoming ECM recording, due out later this year.



Together, Ballamy, Strønen, Sontakke and Vågan delivered an hour-long set that ebbed and flowed as ideas moved liberally around the stage. Sontakke began alone, first singing but gradually introducing his lap steel to create a warm wash that slowly expanded with the injection of Ballamy's softly lyrical yet still somewhat skewed lines, the saxophonist moving from tenor to soprano to what may have been an EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument). Vågan's playing was largely textural, though he occasionally broke through with more jagged lines as the dynamics built to one of a number of false climaxes that only led to new ideas, new paths and new developments.

As impressive as the group was collectively, Strønen remained a visual lightning rod amidst Food's cushioned ambience. While not averse to creating complex pulses and intensely building cacophonies when the music demanded, he was as much a textural player who used his kit from a more orchestral perspective. His use of electronics was particularly impressive for his ability to sample his acoustic kit, process and feed it back through his gear at near-light speed—his fingers moving around the knobs, buttons and pads with the same dexterity and accuracy that his sticks did on his skins and cymbals.

A mélange of electro-acoustics, Food's Blæst performance was one of the festival's clear highlights; the only shame being its relatively sparse attendance, though that just meant those who were there were witness to something particularly special; a context that may well be repeated again, but never sounding quite like it did at Blæst.


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