Kornstad Trio in Tampere: Improvisation as Negotiation

Matthew Wuethrich By

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Old Customs Hall
Tampere, Finland
November 1, 2003

Improvisation can be seen as a negotiation, a constant give and take of ideas, accepting some and rejecting others, eyes always looking forward from the moment. The young Norwegian Kornstad Trio conducts such a negotiation during the second day of the Tampere Jazz Happening. They show how the goal of negotiation is unity, not personal desire. However, they hold close to the deep jazz tradition of expressing their individual sound and while doing it make energetic, intuitive music.

Tenor saxophonist Häkon Konrstad set a strong, blues-tinged mood with his flowing, kinetic lines and broad sonic vocabulary. But he had the poet’s sense of choosing just the right note for the moment. He sparingly used the tenor sax’s upper register, found just the right spaces for his percussive phrases and cleverly used his thigh as a mute when the moment called for a hushed, aching moan.

Kornstad’s lines ride over and around the sharp, detailed drumming of Pals-Nilssen Love. “Percussion architect” is a fitting title for Love’s work as he integrates rapid fire snare rolls, tonal cymbal accents and tight hi-hat beats into a dense rhythmic bed. But he combines his wave of ideas with a subtle, light-handed touch that makes every tone and every beat crystal clear.

Bassist Mats Eilersten grounds the more energetic explorations of Love and Kornstad with his thick, low-end vamps. Chorded double-stops, clear strumming, saw-tooth bowing and constant reference to melody all find a place in his vocabulary.

With such a foundation the group moves around within the song structures in a loose, relaxed manner. While all three players boldly express their individual sounds, they merge them into an expressive whole by leaving space at every possible turn, and the result of those spaces is an intense, shifting dialogue.

Kornstad’s “Fib” opens the set. Love lays out a shimmering, clattering cymbal bed and Eilersten puts down a spacious bass line that Kornstad fills with melodic fragments that he turns and twists into all manner of shapes. They segue into Eilersten’s “Roll Over” after a staccato interlude-Love punctuating with clipped cymbal work and Eilersten’s meaty low-end bowing. Kornstad stokes the intensity with a tense, short blues riff that he repeats over and over, slowly mutating it until Eilersten kicks in with a forceful bass vamp that leads the group into a menacing swing. From here Kornstad unwinds a dark, spiraling theme that climaxs in a fury of group interaction.

The highlight of the set is their take on Archie Shepp’s “Keep Your Heart Tight” which grew out of Kornstad’s “Arched Shape”. The trio’s range of sound is on full display as they use the simple, bluesy theme as a starting point for frenzy of counterpoint and cross-rhythms, climaxing in Kornstad’s breathtaking solo. The rhythm section drops out, letting him sonically and rhythmically deconstruct the theme. He interlaces snatches of the melody with short, aggressive outbursts and powerful tongue pops, but he never loses sight of where they started from.

That solo represents the Kornstad Trio in a microcosm. One foot firmly rooted, the other ready to take the next step: past, present and future negotiated into an energetic balance. You feel as if you know where you are and you are excited about where you will go next.

Complete coverage of the 2003 Tampere Jazz Festival...
Tampere Jazz Happening: Speaking a Universal Language
Wibutee in Tampere: Club Music and Jazz Collide
Erik Truffaz in Tampere: Fusion for the 21st Century
The Bad Plus in Tampere: Cinematic Trio Images
The Electrics in Tampere: All-Acoustic Electricity
Kornstad Trio in Tampere: Improvisation as Negotiation
Scorch Trio in Tampere: If Hendrix and Coltrane had a Love Child...
Uri Caine's Bedrock 3 in Tampere: Too Many DJs
Gnomus & Jukka Gustavsson in Tampere: The Wit of the Improviser
William Parker's Healing Song in Tampere
Samuli Mikkonen in Tampere: Composed Moods and Spontaneous Energy
Louis Sclavis in Tampre: Memories of a Naples that Never Was


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