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 largelybut not exclusivelyaround the writing of Lars Horntveth. The multi-instrumentalistwhose Kaleidoscopic (Smalltown Supersound, 2009) is one of the year's most ambitious, largely solo effortsmanages 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.
l:r: Erik Johannessen, Line Horntveth, Lars Horntveth, Øysten Moen
In order to execute the group's highly arranged charts, Jaga Jazzist neededand continues to havea 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 Hortvethone 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 vocalsplays 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 purviewand it most certainly does, albeit in the broadest possible definitionit's more aligned with detailed construction than it is heavy improvisation. That said, there are opportunities for soloing, with trumpeter Mathias Eickwho 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 categorydelivering 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 Crimetimecrammed, as he was, with so many others on a stage barely large enough to contain what looked like a music store shop frontit'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.
l:r: Martin Horntveth, Even Ormestad, Stian Westerhus, Andreas Mjøs
Blending unique and ever-shifting combinations of instruments with hints of electronicathough Martin Horntveth's powerful but elastic drumming was a more vivid driver than any programmed beats could bethe 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.
Arve Henriksen Closing Concert
It's been a tremendous week for Molde Jazz artist in residence, Arve Henriksen. From the extreme electronic improv of Supersilent to the more nuanced acoustic interplay of the Christian Wallumrød ensemble, Henriksen has not only demonstrated the breadth and depth of the Norwegian scene in one compact timeframe, but also his growing importance as a musical force in Norway and beyond.
To close out Molde Jazz 2009Henriksen also opened the festival six days ago, with his Cartography (ECM, 2008) grouphe didn't exactly go full circle, as that would diminish the ambitious nature of his 11:00 PM show at the beautiful cathedral in Molde Domkirke. But by bringing live sampler Jan Bang back from his opening show, adding keyboardist Ståle Storløkken and vocal group Trio Mediaeval, who have recorded four wonderful albums for ECM including the sublime Folk Songs (2007), Henriksen fashioned a performance that will not only go down as one of the best shows of Molde Jazz 2009, but was so good that it would be a shame if this music didn't see the light of day in recorded form.
Then again, it might be a challenge to truly capture the scope of the performance, which didn't just place the group on the stage, but utilized the cathedral itself as an eighth member of the band (in addition to the six musicians, sound engineer Geir Østenjø was an essential seventh, and not just to this show, but to all of Henriksen's artist in residence performances). Beginning with everyone onstage, the sextet broke down into various subsets, at one point with the members of Trio MediaevalAnna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Tornn Østrem Ossumwalking to the rear of the cathedral, using the room's natural reverb to create a sound that completely enveloped the audience. Later, Friman and Storløkken climbed to the second level for a duet of voice and church organ that carried throughout the cathedral in a combination of drama and angelic atmospherics.
Trio Mediaeval l:r: Linn Andrea Fuglseth, Tornn Østrem Ossum, Anna Maria Friman
This wasn't the first encounter between Henriksen, Bang and Trio Mediaeval. At the trio's performance at Punkt Festival 2007, Bang and Henriksen made guest appearances during the second half of the Trio's performance. But in that instance it was an innovative collaboration within the context of Trio Mediaeval's song list. While there were pieces from the group's repertoire at Henriksen's show, there was also a wealth of new and existing music reworked for this unique combination of voice, electric keyboards and church organ, live sampling and voice. And the addition of Storløkken was a stroke of genius; in most contexts the full extent of his capabilities are rarely completely explored, although Elephant9's DodoVoodoo (Rune Grammofon, 2008) does come close, but hereespecially in his final moving and virtuosic performance on the church's pipe organthe keyboardist demonstrated both tremendous sensitivity and great power. His work in the more subtle moments onstage was equally impressive, as he meshed with Henriksen's liquid trumpet, Bang's unparalleled astute sampling choices and Trio Mediaeval's heavenly choir.
Bang has transcended the more dance floor-heavy work of his early days, and has become a true instrumentalist, possessing a truly rare ability to work in any musical context. He created soft pulses briefly in the most rarified atmospheres, and added processed retakes of earlier fragments from others into the mix, all without ever feeling out of place within the tranquil context of much of the music.
There was a certain sense of coming full circle, as Henriksen and Bang moved into Cartography's "Recording Angel" at the set's midpoint. But integrated with the Trio's voices as part of a series of continuous, suite-like pieces, it took on greater meaning as a sign of Henriksen's ongoing evolution. The album has been out for nearly a year, and the music on it conceived and constructed significantly before that (some material coming from sources years old), and so even though the unmistakable melody and changes of "Recording Angel" remained, where the piece ultimately went was somewhere new, and reflective of where Henriksen is now, not where he's been before.
l:r Ståle Storløkken, Jan Bang
And where is Henriksen now? While projects like Supersilent and Christian Wallumrød's ensemble continue to be occasional departures, Henriksen has never been more focused on his own music than he is today. A player with no small appreciation for the jazz traditionhis playing on The Norwegian Wind Ensemble's new recording of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans classic, Sketches of Spain (Nor Wind, 2007), conducted by Maria Schneider demonstrates both a respect and irreverence for the roots of jazzbut whose interests reach far beyond those blurring boundaries into areas of Norwegian traditionalism, contemporary electronics and profoundly lyrical classicism, Henriksen's voice as a player has been unmistakable for some time. But as a writer and leader, he's come into his own recently; an unequivocally egalitarian leader, to be sure, but one who still retains clear focus and vision. Watching him as the rest of the group played around himmouthing Fuglseth, Ossum and Friman's lyrics, tilting his head and smiling gently as Storløkken and Bang used bleeding edge electronics to create truly ageless sounds, it was almost enough just to watch an artist so clearly content in that moment, yet who continues to search for a future direction on a daily basis.
There were times where the music evoked ECM touchstones like the Azimuth trio with keyboardist John Taylor, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and singer Norma Winstone. It also possessed even more emotional ties with bassist Eberhard Weber's Fluid Rustle (1979), in particular when Trio Mediaeval sang wordlessly to Storløkken, Henriksen and Bang's more jazz-centric harmonies. But while there were, in addition, plenty of references to Norwegian folk melodicism and classical spirituality, the combination remained a unique blend that bears Henriksen's imprint. Truly one of the most moving performances, not just at Molde Jazz, but in recent memory, it ended the festival on an uplifting and thoroughly human level, garnering one of the festival's few standing ovations from an audience who could be seen swaying, eyes closed, to an atmospheric performance where music spanning centuries came together in perfect synchronicity; a nuanced performance of unfailing beauty and profound resonance.