Scene Norway 2 at King's Place
The evening's event in Hall One was a double bill. Singer/songwriter Hilde Marie Kjersem opened with her band, performing a 45-minute set largely culled from her recent If We Make It to the Future (Warner Music Norway, 2013)a very different set from her 2012 duo performance as part of Culture Night, an evening in September each year, where free shows are provided throughout the city of Oslo, ranging from classical performances under the umbrella of the Ultima Festival to more intimate sets like Kjersem's, where the singer was accompanied only by an electric guitarist and, occasionally, her own autoharp.
For her London debuthard to believe, but this was the first time she's played thereKjersem may have professed to being nervous in conversation after the show, but you'd never have known it. Supported by two keyboardists and a drummer, it was unmistakably pop music with a heavy synth contingent, but Kjersem's powerful voice and charismatic stage presenceaugmented by Tord Knudsen's visuals and, for one song, a guest appearance by Molværmade it a powerful evening-opener, even if its non-jazz content resulted in some leaving and, unfortunately for them, missing one of the absolute highlights of the three-day event.
Spin Marvel was initially the brainchild of drummer Martin France, perhaps better known for his more acoustic collaborations with everyone from John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler to the Loose Tubes axis, including Django Bates and Iain Ballamy. Spin Marvel's self-titled 2007 Babel Label debut also featured what would become regular band mates fellow Brits, guitarist John Parricelli and bassist Tim Harries, and Norwegian percussionist/sound designer Terje Evensen. But it was with the quartet's second record, The Reluctantly Politicised Mr James (Edition Records, 2010), that France recruited Molvær and pushed the group into completely different territory.
Parricelli was not in attendance for Spin Marvel's Scene Norway 2 performance, which again featured Molvær as a guest, but while it would be wrong to say he was not missed, it would be appropriate to suggest the group did just fine without him. The show began with the house lights up fulla curious thing, in and of itselfbut with the lighting quickly dropping to near-darkness, the first half of the set was, from a visual perspective, more about Knudsen's stunning visuals, as the group was almost entirely invisible.
That didn't mean, of course, that Spin Marv el was away from the audience's consciousness, as the improvised set moved from strength to strength, with France, in particular, coming off as a star of the show alongside Molvær. The duo, in fact, engaged in some in-tandem free play alone early in the set, and set a high bar for the rest of the hour-long performance.
A bar that was met and raised continuously, with Harries and Evensen expanding the landscape while avoiding any conventional constructs. The first 20 minutes was particularly intense, making its sudden stop, leaving Molvær alone with his harmonized horn, a terrific release from the unrelenting tension built up to that point as the trumpeter seemed to truly be squeezing notes from his horn rather than simply blowing them.
Knudesen's impressionistic, near-apocalyptic use of fiery reds and icy grays complemented the music perfectly, as the group began to once again build over France's tumultuous playing and Molvær's unexpected leaps into the stratosphere, all bolstered by Harries' low-end rumblings (felt as much as heard) and Evensen's layered soundscapes. As the maelstrom gradually faded to near-silence, it was just a brief respite, as France and Evensen began to slowly build once again with simpatico inevitability, Evensen's chiming electronics contrasting France's reverb-laden rim shots and tom toms, with Molvær and Harries joining in again for a climax that became an even clearer display of unfettered power and freedom as Knudsen once again brought the stage lighting fully up. It was all the more remarkable for the rare opportunities that this groupwith or without Molværcan be brought together; but for those in attendance, a show they'll not soon forget.