Molde Jazz: Day 6, July 18, 2009

John Kelman By

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Break of Day in Molde / Crimetime Orchestra / Jaga Jazzist / Arve Henriksen Closing Concert
Molde Jazz
Molde, Norway
July 18, 2009

It's almost impossible to believe, that after the late nights of Molde Jazz, hundreds of people would make the trek halfway up the hill towards where singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen performed the previous evening, to an outdoor amphitheater on the last day of the festival, for an early morning performance by trumpeter and artist in residence Arve Henriksen, keyboardist and Norwegian icon Jon Balke, percussionist Terje Isungset, cellist Svante Henryson and dancer Therese Skauge. But by the time the "Break of Day in Molde" concert began at 7:00 AM—long after the sun had begun to rise in the sky hours earlier after a true night of only a couple hours—the stands were full, with a waking audience provided with free coffee and juices, courtesy of Molde Jazz.

Molde Jazz Festival

Only in Norway would an idea such as this even be considered, let alone be this well attended. Maybe it's the long days—even at night it's never quite as dark as it is at other times of the year—that discourage sleep. Or perhaps it's a certain intrepid personality that places culture, for a brief time at least, over such basic necessities as sleep. But either way, there were nearly a thousand people waiting for Henriksen to appear with this one time-only group.

Chapter Index

  1. Break of Day in Molde: Arve Henriksen
  2. Crimetime Orchestra
  3. Jaga Jazzist
  4. Arve Henriksen Closing Concert
  5. Festival Wrap-Up

Break of Day in Molde: Arve Henriksen

Henriksen's week at Molde Jazz as artist in residence has been a remarkable consolidation of past works and a view into the future of an artist who never seems to stand still. With boundless energy, he's involved in seemingly countless projects, but for this performance he appeared to turn the musical direction over to Balke, with an hour-long set of music that sounded like a miniature version of Balke's longstanding Magnetic North Orchestra, responsible for a series of albums including Diverted Travels (ECM, 2004). Without knowing who wrote the music, Balke's presence—as an influential musician whose reach extends beyond his own music, and whose Siwan (2009) is an ECM masterpiece as important, if not more so, as Jan Garbarek's 1994 collaboration with The Hilliard Ensemble, Officium—was felt in the music; his curious and distinctive harmonic and rhythmic approach a definer for the entire performance.

Molde Jazz Festival / Arve HenriksenBeginning with music that was as gentle as the warmth of the sun as it continued to rise, Henriksen's liquid tone was beyond lyrical, creating music that couldn't have been more appropriate to the outdoor context where it was being made. There were no sharp surfaces, only a kind of impressionism that created a soft cushion for Skauge to dance to. Skauge's movements were elegantly interpretive, but things went both ways; as much as she responded to the music around her, the musicians took cues from her movements as well.

It was a terrific opportunity to hear the remarkable Henryson in a more open environment. His work with singer Kristin Asbjørnsen was perfectly fitting, but he had to function within the songwriter's more structured context. Here, despite no shortage of form, freedom was also a part of the picture, allowing the cellist to be more intimately interactive with the rest of his band mates. His rapport with Henriksen was especially noticeable, as the two worked off each other, most often in the subtlest of ways.

Isungset has been on the Norwegian scene for a number of years, working largely in improvised contexts but is, perhaps, best known for his ice concerts and CDs, where the percussionist literally builds instruments out of ice and collaborates with artists including Henriksen, singer Sidsel Endresen, harpist Iro Haarla and trumpeter Per Jørgensen, to create music that sounds not quite of this world. Here, however, he used more conventional percussion, though his approach was anything but. Using rocks—large, rounded ones and flate, slate-like slabs—he demonstrated that music truly can be found anywhere, as his stone-on-stone often created notes that were in perfect harmony with the music around him.

Playing keyboards, but also utilizing, in addition to Henriksen, some of the gongs strung along the back of the stage—especially a particularly large one that he struck with the palm of his hand to create a deep bass sound that was absolutely huge—Balke created layers of soft electric piano washes and added some sound samples to the mix. The music may have seemed amorphous at times, but equally it found its way to groove too, especially towards the end of the show, when Henryson began working with Isungset to create a potent rhythm, over which Henriksen first sang, then turned comic in a poke at early morning shows that encourage their audience to get up, stretch and do other physical activities—and he managed to get the hundreds of people at the Reknesparken amphitheater to do just that, amidst plenty of laughter.

Molde Jazz Festival / Arve Henriksen l:r: Jon Balke, Therese Skauge, Svante Henryson, Arve Henriksen, Terje Isungset

The music gradually became more energetic to coincide with the emergence of the day and the waking audience; but it was most remarkable for its putting to music an occurrence in nature that most take for granted. A short encore was an appropriate end to the performance, a singable melody over a gentle foundation that left the audience feeling joyous and optimistic about the day ahead. If only they could bottle that and use it instead of alarm clocks to wake people up.

Crimetime Orchestra

The final day of Molde Jazz 2009 wrapped up with three eagerly anticipated concerts, including a rare encounter, a triumphant return and a shifting, rarely heard collective that put on one of the most relentless performances of the festival, one that combined cued form with unfettered free play. Crimetime Orchestra began in 2002 as a free jazz big band informed by the music of Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman (the group's use of two drummers and two bassists harkening back to the 79 year-old innovator, heard recently in performance at the 2009 Festival International de Jazz de Montreal), Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis and classical composers including Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Molde Jazz Festival / Crimetime Orchestra Front l:r: Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Per Oddvar Johansen, Paal Nilssen-Love, Mats Eilertsen

Of course, with some of the leading lights on Norway's free jazz scene and many others—including bassists Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Mats Eilertsen, drummers Per Oddvar Johansen and Paal Nilssen-Love (also a participating member of the Chicago scene via reeds player Ken Vandermark), trombonist Øyvind Brække (also of the smaller collective The Source, with Trygve Seim, Eilertsen and Johansen), keyboardist Christian Wallumrød, saxophonists Jon Klette, Vidar Johansen, Gisle Johnsen and Kjetil Moster, hornist Sofie Tafjord, trumpeter Sjur Miljeteig and guitarist Stian Westerhus—who has recently returned from years spent in England and has leapt onto the scene with a number of groups—there's more than enough playing power to create some seriously joyous noise. And so it was, when the group took to the Kulturhuset stage, that it took very little time hitting its stride with a kind of collective controlled chaos that may have appeared unstructured when the group was firing on all cylinders—as it did much of the time—but remained driven by certain roadmaps that created rallying points for the group throughout its 80-minute set.

Individual solos abounded within the group's fuller context, as did breaking the 13-piece ensemble into a variety of subsets to provide respite from the wall of sound that came off the stage when everyone was in the pool and was, despite Wallumrød's keyboard, Tafjord's processing and Westerhus' array of foot pedals, a largely acoustic performance. At least, even though Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Mats Eilertsen were playing electric instruments, it sure felt that way, with the two drummers and horn section creating such a massive sound that everything else only added to a core density. Wallumrød—who went from the somewhat austere but darkly beautiful performance with his own ensemble on Wednesday to the ordered cacophony—was wearing earplugs, a wise idea given just how much sound was coming off the stage, even before the PA system was taken into consideration.

Eilertsen could be seen experimenting with effects and some unorthodox approaches to his bass, including using a glass slide not to create sliding notes, but to create a persistent wash of sound, and combining electronics with bending his strings to, at one point, sound like a foghorn. Håker Flaten was more about high octane playing, creating a wall of low-register sound that rarely turned to anchoring the group, but when he did in one section of its two lengthy and continuous pieces, working in concert with Johanssen and Nilssen-Love, it was all the more dramatic. And while the jagged power of Crimetime Orchestra was a defining feature, there were moments of respite, although they remained extreme and filled with surprise.

Molde Jazz Festival / Crimetime Orchestra / Stian WesterhusWith the powerhouse playing of Johanssen and Nilssen-Love a particular high point for the group, it was Westerhus—who played with reckless abandon throughout the set, but took a lengthy solo near the end of the second piece—that was the surprise star of the show. Possessing a wealth of sonic invention, raw and angular ideas and a magnetic stage presence made all the more noticeable by his physical separation from the rest of the group on stage right—largely, no doubt, because of the footprint of his rig and the sheer volume coming for his VOX AC-30 (the longtime favorite of many of Norway's most famous guitarists, including Eivind Aarset and Terje Rypdal)—Westerhus, who has released the first album on Rune Grammofon's new, all-vinyl label The Last Record Company, Galore (2009), is on the ascendant. A member of the reformed Jaga Jazzist and recently replacing Aarset in trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer's group, his wildly creative approach to turning the guitar into something much bigger texturally remains a more direct contrast to Aarset's less guitaristic palette.

There were other high points, including the empathic interaction between Johanssen and Nilssen-Love, Tafjord and Wallumrød's out-of-this world electronics, a fiery baritone saxophone/drums duet with Nilssen-Love and brief encounter between Håker Flaten and Johansen. But the group's greatest benchmark was when it was playing as a 13-piece ensemble, creating an almost impenetrable sonic assault of power that was only hinted at on its one release, Life is a Beautiful Monster (Jazzaway, 2005).

Jaga Jazzist

Jaga Jazzist, returning after a four-year hiatus (with the exception of one 2007 date in Singapore), was one of the festival's most eagerly anticipated shows. Massively popular in Norway and with no small following abroad, the group's music revolves largely—but not exclusively—around the writing of Lars Horntveth. The multi-instrumentalist—whose Kaleidoscopic (Smalltown Supersound, 2009) is one of the year's most ambitious, largely solo efforts—manages to combine everything from Steve Reichian-minimalism to Frank Zappa-informed structural complexity, all with a strong rock energy, serpentine but singable melodies and a rock and roll stage presentation that made it one of the Molde Jazz's most impressive shows.

Molde Jazz Festival / Jaga Jazzist l:r: Erik Johannessen, Line Horntveth, Lars Horntveth, Øysten Moen

In order to execute the group's highly arranged charts, Jaga Jazzist needed—and continues to have—a group of nine musicians who all at least double, if not triple, quadruple or more, on a variety of instruments ranging from tuba, flute and to bass clarinet to vibraphone, double-bass, electric guitars, keyboards and more. Lars Hortveth—one of three siblings in a group that also includes sister Line on tuba, flute, percussion, melodica and vocals, and brother Martin who, in addition to being the group's onstage spokesperson, plays drums, percussion and vocals—plays guitar, lap steel guitar, clarinet, bass clarinet, keyboards, and tenor and soprano saxophones, switching between them so quickly that it seems like sleight of hand.

If Jaga Jazzist fits within the jazz purview—and it most certainly does, albeit in the broadest possible definition—it's more aligned with detailed construction than it is heavy improvisation. That said, there are opportunities for soloing, with trumpeter Mathias Eick—who also plays double-bass, vibraphone and keyboards, and whose ECM debut, The Door (2008), was one of last year's picks in the New Discoveries category—delivering one of the performance's first great solos, and guitarist Stian Westerhus essentially continuing the same sonic assault as he provided with Crimetime Orchestra earlier in the day. A little less in the spotlight than with Crimetime—crammed, as he was, with so many others on a stage barely large enough to contain what looked like a music store shop front—it's clear that Westerhus, who also plays in the improvising duo Puma, has a singular vision and approach to the guitar, but one that can be transported into many different contexts.

Molde Jazz Festival / Jaga Jazzist l:r: Martin Horntveth, Even Ormestad, Stian Westerhus, Andreas Mjøs

Blending unique and ever-shifting combinations of instruments with hints of electronica—though Martin Horntveth's powerful but elastic drumming was a more vivid driver than any programmed beats could be—the set was largely culled from a yet-to-be-released new album that should see the light of day in early 2010. Music from the group's last release, What We Must (Smalltown Supersound, 2005), as well as a smattering of older material, was also included in a lengthier than normal festival performance to a packed house at Bjørnsonhuset, where the seats had been removed for a standing room-only crowd that was clearly as excited to be seeing Jaga Jazzist as the group was to be back in action. If the new music was any indicator, the forthcoming album will fit within the group's overall body of work while moving it forward at the same time. An influential group that has reached even Canadian shores in its inspiration to Bell Orchestre, it's great to have Jaga Jazzist back; hopefully the group is planning to stick around for awhile.



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