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Despite ample evidence to the contrary, for many people trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær is synonymous with understated, electronica-drenched, ambient music. The perception gets stronger the further the Norwegian's name travels from its home turf, despite his record company's best efforts. In 2006, Sula Records released the fierce, high temperature An American Compilation, partly to increase Molvær's profile in North America, partly to define it more accurately. To little avail. Beyond his core audience, the trumpeter continues to be known as the soundscape man.
Molvær, in fact, is a master of both chilled out sonic backdrops and intense, rhythmically charged jazz, a duality which makes simple brand definition hard to achieve. Both approaches are represented on the excellent Hamada. Eight of the 10 tracks are gentle, velvety musings on which Molvær is accompanied only by guitarist Eivind Aarset and electronicist Jan Bang, who provide spacey, heartbeat-like counterpoints to his modal peregrinations. The tunes have depth, but are subtle enough to require highly focused listening to unlock.
Sandwiched amongst them, however, tracks four and eightthe aptly named "Friction" and "Cruel Altitude"are something else entirely. Both are angry, passionate, high decibel workouts in which the trio is joined by electric bassist Audun Erlien and drummer Audun Kleive, and the group proceeds to kick out the jams with a fervor for which Detroit's acid 'n' amphetamine-driven MC5 would have been proud. On these two tracks, which total just under 15 minutes of playing time, Molvær cranks the music up further than ever before, beyond even the level reached on previous stomps such as "Nebulizer" and "Solid Ether" (both included on An American Compilation). He also introduces a degree of rock, as opposed to dance or funk, sonic and rhythmic influences not previously heard in his work. The sound and the arrangements are closer to prog rock than to jazz, but unlike classic prog rock are infused with snarling punk ferocity.
On this strand of Hamada, Molvær has got in touch with his inner rock musician rather like guitarist Charlie Hunter finally did on Mistico (Fantasy, 2007). For the remaining 30 minutes or so, he soothes rather than provokes the savage beast. It's a juxtaposition of extremes, but it works.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.