Arve Henriksen: The Trumpet is My Pen

Nenad Georgievski By

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Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen is one of a handful of creative upstarts, like trumpeters Nils Petter Molvaer or Erik Truffaz, who are embracing electronics and the improvisational side of jazz in their music. Henriksen's music is an otherworldly amalgamation of different and sometimes opposing elements, with imaginative soundscapes built on the tradition that trumpeter Miles Davis began with his electronic explorations of four decades ago. His releases as a leader began with the debut, Sakuteiki (Rune Grammofon, 2001), and also include Chiaroscuro (Rune Grammofon, 2004) and Strjon (Rune Grammofon, 2007), the three recent reissued on vinyl in the lavish, seven-LP Soldification (Rune Grammofon, 2013) box. Solidification also includes Chron, a new recording made exclusively for this box set. One of Henriksen's trademarks is his unorthodox approaches to music-making and improvisation, something most evident in the band Supersilent, an all-improv band which currently includes keyboardist Ståle Storløkken and producer/guitarist Helge Sten, with drummer Jarle Vespestad, leaving the group in 2009.

Supersilent's intelligent and uncompromising music is happening in the now. The band thrives on a "no rehearsals" motto, nor does it create fixed plans or strategies. Rather, the trio explores and convenes without a safety net, creating spontaneous improvisations that have included everything under the sun, from ambient textures to brutal and vicious noise. In 2010, at the renowned Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, Norway, the band was approached by legendary bassist/keyboardist of Led Zeppelin fame, John Paul Jones—an initially non-performing guest of the festival who, having his bass and a laptop on-hand, asked the festival if he could perhaps open with a 15-minute improve for one of the existing acts. Placed in the opening slot to Supersilent's set, it was during soundcheck that he approached the Norwegian trio, asking if he could play with them, and they were more than happy to agree.

Jones' solo career, including production and collaborative projects, has long demonstrated his experimental and avant-garde interests, and following what turned out to be one of Punkt's highlights for that year, Supersilent and Jones reunited for a subsequent tour of England in 2012, which proved to be a perfect match for the challenge-seeking musicians.

Henriksen's sound can also be encountered on one of many projects he took part in, like British avant-songsmith David Sylvian's Nine Horses project, pianist Christian Wallumrod's Ensemble, Food, producers (and Punkt co-Artistic Directors) Jan Bang and Erik Honore's many projects, to name but a few.

A musician trying to redefine the sound of the trumpet—as well as other instruments in his arsenal, including electronics, voice and drums—make good music and have some fun.

All About Jazz: What was the impetus behind the formation of Supersilent?

Arve Henriksen:The beginning of the whole concept for Supersilent began in 1988 or 1989, when Jarle, the drummer, Storløkken, the keyboard player, and I met in Trondheim. We met while we were studying together, and we also met Helge. He was also studying in Trondheim, but he was studying at the art school. We knew each other during our studies at Trondheim, but we never got together to play. Then, in 1997, we met at the festival in Bergen, on the western coast of Norway. The jazz festival is called NattJazz and they invited us, our jazz band, which was a trio called Veslefrekk [Henriksen, Storløkken and Vespestad]. This trio met at the festival and at the same time Rune Kristoffersen, the founder of Rune Grammofon. He wanted us to be the first group to record for his label. The trio was a sort of free-improvised unit with all kinds of music styles on its repertoire.

We wanted to play all kinds of music—contemporary, jazz, standards, ECM-styled kind of sounds, music inspired by Norwegian folk music, and world music. We were inspired by any kind of styles. That was our way of defining free improvised music. We also played some compositions that we made along the way. It was a melting pot for all kinds of things we enjoyed listening to at the time, and when Helge came into the group he brought his experiences with Deathprod. He brought darker, more hardcore sounds. And the combination of these elements—the freer improvised setting that the trio had and Helge—gradually became this free improvised concept. That eventually made Supersilent's sound, if you like. It was based on meeting up to play and to see what would happen, and things happened along the way and we managed to record many different albums. In a way, the records are sort of in the same sound garden.

Arve Henriksen—SolidificationAAJ: How do you approach music-making in this band?

AH: There is a Supersilent concept; it's free- improvised, but we know that from time to time it can sound sort of the same. We never decide what to play when we go onstage. We just have a nice long sound check, gradually tune into something and then we just follow the spontaneous artistry that comes up, trying to follow that river and go with the flow. We don't decide too much. But of course, I remember an occasion in 2002/3, after we had some recordings and gigs, that we came to a point where we felt we got a little bit stuck. There were some gigs that were sort of difficult to make things flow. But we struggled through that and continued for some time with Ståle, and four years ago Jarle left the band. In 2009, we had this situation where Jarle gradually faded out of the idea of the group's concept, as he wanted to play more defined music, like Farmers Market, which he loves. He worked [and continues to work] a lot with Tord Gustavsen, the pianist. He wanted to play compositions, pre- defined music, and I really admire his decision, his choice, at the time, to go into another direction. For me, Ståle and Helge, Supersilent's concept will always be this sort of a meeting point, a laboratory of sounds, a place to meet and do things we want to do as opposite of thinking too much and spending so much time rehearsing songs.

It is a free space for us, where we try to be free and open to check out different things which, for us, are new. Therefore, it's been a very important place for us to be. It's really a place where we get to do something that we didn't get a chance to do in other bands— a free area for us to have fun and play. We were breaking barriers and this approach has continued for all these years. We just want to make music without wanting to make a special style. That is why, after awhile, Helge started playing guitar in the group. In 2007, I began using more drums and now I'm sort of a drummer in that group. It is fun to be 44 years old and to be able to challenge myself by playing the drums in that type of context. It's a place for us to be free, to check out new possibilities. Just go with the flow. These are the basics of Supersilent, the concept where we play music and invite musicians that we feel are connected to that way and that type of thinking.

AAJ: How do you see the band's output?

AH: Along the way, we did a lot of CDs with different timbres, different colors to them. The first one was a triple box. The fourth one consists of short abstract electronic pieces while the fifth one consists of live recordings in churches. To me, the sixth is a very strong album. It is very precise and it sounds very contemporary. The seventh album was a DVD, which was very interesting to do, as it was a one-off event for us. The eight album was the last one we did with Jarle and it was a very interesting collaboration. The ninth consisted of playing organs with electronics and the tenth album was recorded in Rainbow Studio and it sounds like improvised chamber music. The eleventh was a vinyl release consisting of studio sessions of earlier works and the twelfth will be released this year. It will be a studio based album done by the trio. That is a long, long journey that has produced all kinds of material that is based on free attitude towards music. We still want to be able to challenge ourselves because Supersilent has been with us for so many years and we still hope we can challenge ourselves with interesting music because over the years we toured a lot while some years we just played 3 shows but it was always important to us to check out interesting things.

AAJ: Why has the band collaborated with so few people during its existence?

AH: We have been collaborating with very few people because we are very restricted in inviting other people into the concept. We did a concert with Christian Wallumrod, who played one concert with us. We have done quite a few gigs with guitarist Stian Westerhus. He is a fantastic guitarist and is very compatible with Supersilent's concept. He will be playing a lot of gigs this year and he will be an equal band member for some gigs. We have also been collaborating with John Paul Jones. This collaboration happened by coincidence. He was at the Punkt festival in Norway and we just asked him if he would like to join us. He played with us and we felt it was great fun and we did several concerts and in November we did a tour in England and probably we will be doing some shows together later this year. But that is also based on this free improvised or free attitude toward music. He has brought a system of using electronics, something that he bought long time ago and is called "Kyma." It's a very advanced electronic program which can do anything that you can possibly think of. So he has been working with this electronic device with Supersilent and this has led Helge, Stale and myself to buy this advanced electronic system. Every once in awhile we have a workshop within the band and we try to go further with electronics. That is why I see the band as a sound laboratorium, a rehearsal in a test laboratory for various musical ideas. This is the concept of Supersilent—inviting special musicians which we feel are bringing new elements for us to chew choose from and we bring people to challenge us. I think we will continue as long as we have that special type of attitude and collaborational environment.

AAJ: Will the concerts with John Paul Jones be released as a recording at some point in the future?

AH: We haven't discussed that yet. The material from the tour in November was not that well recorded. The idea to go into the studio with him is very interesting. It is too early to say. We will see. Maybe it is a good idea. There are some bootlegs from the tour but I haven't checked them. If the recordings are good, it will be fun to hear them. It was great fun touring in UK. It was a pity Helge was sick for the first three shows and he couldn't play, but he played on the last two concerts.
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