Solo saxophone recordings are hardly new in the jazz canon, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one like Kornstad's Single Engine. Håkon Kornstad's star has been on the ascendance on the Scandinavian scene in diverse improvisational contexts including free group Tri-Dim, Jazzland owner Bugge Wesseltoft's New Conception of Jazz club music and Wibutee, a group marrying improvisation and technology with an aggressive rock stance.
Kornstad has proven himself a broadminded player, at home as a spare melodist but equally comfortable pushing Albert Ayler-like extremes. Single Engine is a largely accessible record, but that doesn't mean it lacks substance or that there aren't a number of surprises. It does place a spotlight on Kornstad's remarkable technique, as he applies it to a variety of contexts.
Single Engine isn't strictly a solo saxophone recording. Wesseltoft guests, alongside bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (of Atomic and Scorch Trio) on Hammond B-3 on the appropriately titled "B." The longest track on the disc, it's a gentle but occasionally foreboding tone poem where the line between form and freedom is elegantly blurred. Guitarist Knut Reiersrud duets with Kornstad on "Turkey, Texas," where the saxophonist's Middle Eastern-tinged melody only seems conceptually at odds with his rootsy loops and Reiersud's delta-informed acoustic slide guitar. Riersrud also appears on "Kokarde," a plaintive song that wouldn't sound out of place on Ry Cooder's soundtrack to Wim Wenderr's Paris, Texas (1984).
But the real revelations are on the tunes where Kornstad stands alone. Those familiar with Jazzland Community (Jazzland, 2007), or who have seen Community performances like the one at the 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival, have already heard "Sweden," a tune where Kornstad takes the concept of multi-phonics and moves it into the realm of melodic self-accompaniment. Rather than an exercise in dissonance, Kornstad layers in melodious harmony, creating an I-IV-V song where he seamlessly alternates between a simple melody and the multi-phonic chords. It's perhaps the most remarkable display of unique technique on the record.
It's not the only sign of Kornstad's distinctive approach. "Ardal One Alpha" is another example of consonant multi-phonics, but includes the use of looping to create a delicate, near-ambient orchestral soundscape. "Ambergris" adds saxophone samples and a rudimentary synthesizer, with Kornstad generating a percussive pulse through embouchure alone, and some brief moments of reckless abandon.
In addition to tenor and bass saxophones, Konrstad has created a curious hybrid of flute with a clarinet mouthpiece, called a flutonette (other Norwegians, including saxophonist Trygve Seim and trumpeter Arve Henriksen regularly experiment with similar bastardized instruments). It's a warm sound used to great effect on both "Turkey, Texas" and the solo "Flutonette."
Adventurous, yet undeniably accessible, Single Engine is another rung on a ladder that Kornstad's been climbing for the past few years. Along with Seim, he's part of a new generation of Norwegian reed players regularly pushing the boundaries of the instrument, finding limitless potential through persistent experimentation.
Personnel: Håkon Kornstad: tenor and bass saxophones, flute, flutonette, melodica, saxophone samples, synthesizer, loops; Bugge Wesseltoft: Hammond B-3 organ (4); Knut Reiersrud: acoustic guitar (5), lap steel (8); Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: double-bass (4, 10).