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Molde International Jazz Festival 2013

John Kelman By

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Big Sur, the album, isn't about broad gestures and "look at me" playing, and neither was its delivery in live performance. Instead, it was about creating something in between folk music, cinematic scoring and improvisational freedom that evokes a myriad of pictures in the mind's eye, though what those pictures were surely varied from person to person. One thing was certain: whatever images were going on in the heads of Frisell and his Big Sur sextet, the smiles going around the stage and, in particular, on the guitarist's face throughout the performance, suggested they were definitely in a happy, happy place.



If Frisell's music has turned away from some of the edgier music of his youth, guitarist Stian Westerhus has, while remaining as unorthodox and extreme as ever, also begun turning towards moments of greater beauty. The Norwegian guitarist has, since returning to his home country after five years in London, become one of the country's busiest musicians, largely in improvising contexts like Monolithic, Puma, the trio he recently left with trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær and drummer Erland Dahlen, and his ever-surprising duo with singer Sidsel Endresen. So, there's been considerable buzz around his new group, Pale Horses, which brings together Dahlen and Puma/Jaga Jazzist keyboardist Øystein Moen.

Some of the buzz has been because, for the first time, Westerhus has put together a group predicated on actual written music, but it's also been anticipated as it also represents a first for Westerhus: singing. And so, a couple hours after Frisell left the stage of Plassen's Teatret Vårt Konsert, the chairs were gone and a packed standing room crowd eagerly waited for Westerhus & Pale Horses to hit the stage. Unfortunately, while the trio demonstrated plenty of promise, this first live appearance was fraught with sound problems—for the most part, the sound coming off the stage possessing little clear definition, which was unfortunate as all three players are so distinctive, both individually and collectively.

A conversation with Moen the day after the show also revealed that its set only represented about one-third of the music the group had rehearsed; perhaps it would have been a better show had there been less expansion of the music and a little more concision. Westerhus' voice occupied an upper register, making the overall drone-like complexion of the music somewhat akin to Iceland's Sigur Rós, but with sharper teeth; still, the set was too monolithic (no pun intended) in nature, for the most part occupying a single dynamic space with the exception of one brief moment where, with the lights a deep red, Westerhus stood alone, bowing his guitar and creating the set's most beautiful moment. A little more breadth of dynamics, a lot more definition in the sound and a bit more distinction in the material will go a long way to making Pale Horses the group that its Molde debut clearly promised. Still, there's a huge difference between rehearsal spaces and live venues, and if this group's first show lacked in any way, the knowledge of who its members are and of what they're capable suggests that it's a group well worth following: more, and most certainly better, is sure to come.

July 17: Jason Moran & Bandwagon / Terje Rypdal The Sound of Dreams / Bushman's Revenge

For Jason Moran's third show as part of his week-long residency, he delivered an afternoon set with his longstanding Bandwagon trio—bassist Taurus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits—that focused largely on music by or inspired by Fats Waller, another of the pianist's major touchstones. Like his In My Mind performance of two nights previous, recordings were, at times, part of the set as an interview with Waller, where the pianist concludes by saying "Swing will always be here, forever and a day" acted as a rhythmic motif to drive the trio into its second tune, following a fast, swinging opener. Moran's lengthy solo pushed the entire trio into a space of near- complete freedom, but there was clearly always an eye on the underlying structure, a gospel-tinged segment that began soft and grooving, but ultimately opened up to greater turbulence, bolstered by Waits' maelstrom-like approach that still never lost sight of the groove, as it gradually returned to its gentler conclusion.



A player rivaled only by Craig Taborn in his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz history, Moran proved similarly open-minded, his relaxed personality imbuing his performance throughout the set. Mateen opened the third tune a cappella, but with a line that caused both the bassist and Moran to break out laughing; after a brief pause to regain his composure, Mateen picked things back up, in what was a largely continuous set.

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