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Nils Petter Molvaer: An American Compilation

Chris May By

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In the 35 years since Miles Davis first put foot to wah-wah pedal, any number of musicians have tried to develop the original, shocking impacts of his 1969-74 electric recordings, or even just plain replicate them. (Davis himself tried, with generally disappointing results, throughout the 1980s.)

Current pretenders to Davis' electric legacy include two trumpeters: France's Erik Truffaz and Norway's Nils Petter Molvaer. Truffaz started out promisingly enough, but has recently been subsumed by a bland world-jazz fusion which verges at times on easy listening. Prime time Davis would eat him for breakfast.

Molvaer is something altogether different and more exciting. Since his emergence in 1997, and in particular during the last three or four years, he's created a body of electro-acoustic work whose raw power and fractured lyricism stand up alongside anything Davis recorded during his electric era, from Bitches Brew through Agharta and Pangaea's purple period. And then some: for Molvaer matches Davis not only in intensity, but also in radical imagination. No one has taken Davis' innovations further forward and closer to the edge.

An American Compilation is a blistering collection of material taken from 2002-2005 European releases, assembled to launch Molvaer's fresh assault on the US market following his signing to Thirsty Ear. The label will also be releasing the European sets er (2005) and the live Streamer (2004). Both albums are featured on An American Compilation, along with tracks from NP3 (2002) and the Live In Hamburg DVD (2003).

Most of the tracks, which are mixed one into another, are fierce, dark and volcanic. Molvaer melds his broodingly luminous trumpet improvisations with deep, throbbing percussion, mountainous sonic landscapes, urgent and galvanising rock, funk and trance beats, and creative DJ-ing.

It's all full of mystery and grandeur—this is spacey, tripped-out, bad shit—with a charged atmosphere that reminds me of Walter De Maria's famous Lightning Field installation: a square kilometre of stainless steel poles in the New Mexico desert across which electricity dances in a storm. It's intended as no insult to Molvaer to say that, if Davis were alive and in his thirties today, he might well be making music like "Solid Ether," "Nebulizer" and "Darker."

There is some moonlight amongst the darkness, however, just for contrast. "Little Indian," for Molvaer's daughter Maja, is built on a contemplative, almost gentle, dub reggae bass line, while "Only These Things Count," the only tune featuring vocals, is reminiscent of Norah Jones' reading of Nick Drake's "Day Is Done" on Charlie Hunter's Songs From The Analog Playground (Blue Note, 2001)—a pretty and gentle conclusion to a generally turbulent album.

An auspicious start to Molvaer's American campaign.


Track Listing: Water; Solid Ether; Nebulizer; Kakonita; Kakonita (Deathprod Mix); Darker; Vilderness (Live From Hamburg); Little Indian; Frozen; Tabula Rasa; Only These Things Count.

Personnel: Nils Petter Molvaer: trumpet, bass, keyboard, soundscapes, sampling, double bass, drum programming. With various personnel including: Rune Arnesen: drums, percussion; Eivind Aarset: guitars; Erik Honore: keyboards; Raymond Pellicier: loops, electronics; Jan Bang: samples, drum programming; DJ Strangefruit: vinyl abuse, programming; Sidsel Endersen: voice; Knut Saevik: programming, editing, drum programming, wahbass.

Title: An American Compilation | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Thirsty Ear Recordings


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