Molde International Jazz Festival 2013

John Kelman By

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The second piece began, with Moran once again on acoustic piano, more on the American side of the ocean, and it was quite something to see Bang's response to being placed in a context in which he rarely has been placed—the American jazz tradition. But rather than feeling out of place—though he certainly was challenged—the constantly in-motion live sampler simply—and literally—laughed out loud. Bang's a positive force in music, and one who is quick to show the happiness it brings, but rarely has he ever responded so vocally.

As the pair moved into its third piece, Bang opened with an exotic orchestral sample that led to a repetitive motif which, sounding like a supercharged balafon with an underscore of sonic washes, vocal utterances and the occasional deep bass pulse, created a space for Moran's layered Rhodes explorations, which were suddenly left completely on their own when, suddenly and unexpectedly, Bang pulled out entirely. Still, it wasn't long before Bang was once again sampling Moran who had, by this time, moved to a more funk-driven acoustic piano, with Bang simply—and uncannily accurately—turning a dial to alter the sample's pitch to evoke a clear melody.

But that was far from the end, as Bang astutely picked up Moran's long, cascading phrase and, pushing it up an octave (and then more), used it to color Moran's move into a gospel-inflected passage of unadorned beauty.

Both players, throughout the set, found ways to push their own limits and achieve results they might otherwise not have. At one point in the closing piece, Moran stopped playing and, picking up the microphone normally there to simply make introductions, began whistling a theme that Bang had introduced moments earlier, the set drawing to a sudden close with Bang's infectious laughter. The music Moran and Bang made may have been serious at times—dark, even—but the spirit of collaboration and a first encounter made it not only fun for the players, but for the audience as well. With Bang inviting pianist Tigran Hamasyan to this year's ninth edition of the Punkt Festival in early September, it wouldn't come as a complete surprise to find Moran on the list in 2014, when Punkt celebrates its 10th anniversary in Kristiansand.

Arriving late upstairs at Teatret Vårt Natt, it was immediately clear that something special was already going on. Already in the midst of a powerful solo, Polish altoist Maicej Obara was being driven by fellow Pole, pianist Dominik Wania and two Norwegians— bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Gard Nilssen, playing a considerably downsized kit compared to his Bushman's Revenge show from two nights previous. Clearly in deep concentration, Nilssen's light touch was an almost polar opposite to his thundering grooves with Bushman's, but that needn't suggest a lack of power...only a different kind of energy.

Three-quarters of the quartet came together at the 2012 edition of Take Five Europe, where Obara, Nilssen and Vågan were participants. But it was when the saxophonist invited his two friends to Poland, where they met Wania, that Obara International came to be, recording Komeda: Absolutely Live! (For Tune, 2013) in Poland during the summer of 2012. A year later, the quartet was performing its own music rather than its debut—a tribute to the famous Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda that combined unfettered power and graceful lyricism. The cover sleeve of that recording has Obara's writing: "I am presenting you here with a recording that is particularly important to me. I hope that you will hear what I hear in it: artists that understand each other without words, whose energy drives, inspires and motivates to act."

All of these things and more were clear in the quartet's set. Vågan and Nilssen are two of the busiest players of their generation in Norway, and for good reason. Vågan's aggressive approach—slapping, plucking, hitting, scraping his bass strings—is the closest thing Norway has to a player coming from Charles Mingus, though in some of the other groups with which he is involved, in particular Mellow Motif and, more recently, The Deciders, he's far more outrageous and free. Here, while there was plenty of freedom, it was based around stronger structural contexts, and Nilssen was the ideal rhythm partner: loose, flowing—at times swinging, but equally strong at rubato playing. Wania's major touchstone could easily be McCoy Tyner though, with his approach infused with classical ideations, it was, perhaps, more Richie Beirach than John Coltrane's quartet mate. Obara was nothing short of a revelation; an altoiost unafraid to try anything, but constantly listening to the music around him in order to find that shared understanding.


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