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Ola Kvernberg Trio: Folk

John Kelman By

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Beginning his career playing Manouche music, Norwegian violinist/mandolinist Ola Kvernberg has recently been exploring more modernistic spaces with his trio featuring bassist Steinar Raknes and drummer Erik Nylander. Folk is the follow-up to the trio's 2006 Jazzland debut, Night Driver, and the same loose interplay is on display, but with greater confidence and depth—the clear result of more time spent together.

"Roland" is based around a repetitive riff and contemporary funk groove, but what's remarkable is how Kvernberg does so much with so little. He builds his solo from economical melodicism and Jean-Luc Ponty-esque syncopations to greater fire bolstered by an overdubbed violin, gradually creating defined harmonic shifts initially implied by his linear phrases. On "Mariam," Kvernberg layers the lyrical theme over a spare, strummed series of mandolin chords, but when he takes off for his solo, the song's changes are more explicitly driven by Raknes, who retains a soft pulse with Nylander's brush-driven work to again provide Kvernberg the opportunity to build a solo that's a combination of motivic consideration and barely unfettered extrapolation.

In a world of piano, organ, guitar, and saxophone trios, violin trios are hard to come by, but why that's so is a good question. While not as expansive a chordal instrument as, say, piano or guitar, the violin has enough ability to do more than merely suggest harmony to create a full-sounding trio. As much as Kvernberg uses judicious layering of violin and mandolin to create explicit harmonic substance, the trio is fully formed even when pared down to its basic components. Kvernberg is a virtuosic player who rarely lets everything out of the bag, but on the opening to the fiercely swinging "John," in duet with Nylander, both show just how much they're capable of. When Raknes enters, the tune takes off; a time/no-changes modal piece providing everyone the opportunity to shine both individually and collectively.

Not since the late Zbigniew Seifert has there been a violinist coming out of an unexpected country with such unforeseen promise. Seifert was often called "the John Coltrane of the violin" during his brief career, and Kvernberg may well be capable of grabbing a torch that's waited so long to be passed. But there's more to him as well, with the sketch of a theme to "John" demonstrating hints of Middle Eastern music and the dark, rubato "Tale" showing tinges of classicism—as does the solo pizzicato feature "Arvo," which leads to the open-ended finale, "Oscar," where once again Raknes and Nylander create a visceral but understated pulse to drive Kvernberg's inevitable build of bowed and pizzicato work.

Unlike Seifert, whose unbridled passion defined his short life ("The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long"), Kvernberg is about more than just unconstrained energy and reckless abandon. Folk positions the Ola Kvernberg Trio as a group to watch, with a fertile blend of spare economy and teeming fire, all in a context of loose improvisational interaction that comfortably traverses considerable emotional and stylistic territory.

Track Listing: Roland; Mariam; Mia; John; Tale; Sara; Arvo; Oscar.

Personnel: Ola Kvernberg: violin, octave violin, mandolin, percussion; Steinar Raknes: double-bass; Erik Nylander: drums, percussion.

Title: Folk | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Jazzland Recordings


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