Nils Petter Molvaer: Colors, Noises and Moods

Adriana Carcu By

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So at one point, instead of hiding the trumpet, I began working with it on this new basis. I didn't want to sound like anything else. I didn't want to sound like a saxophone and I didn't want to show off; what I wanted to create was more like a voice. Technique can be beautiful, but for me it was more important to create a voice. A voice can be soft, but not only that: it can be angry, crazy, frustrated, whatever. And then I heard the ney flutes from North Africa and Central Asia, and the sounds from Armenia, Bulgaria and Romania—very beautiful sounds. All these traditional sounds affected me much more than jazz. I also listened to a lot of Brian Eno, and I found those things quite fascinating.

AAJ: Have you been consciously working on your tone or it did it come up naturally? Miles Davis once said that after he'd been down and out, he needed three years to get his tone back.

NPM: I can work on it, of course. It is a matter of what you want it to sound like, and then you try to focus on that and use the appropriate technique. For me now, it is more of an organic thing. It is my voice. There are managers who try to make you sound like something else, and I always tell them that it is not possible. Actually the whole process is more a matter of finding your own voice than of building it consciously.

AAJ: Nordic jazz has developed tremendously, especially during the last decade, and today contemporary jazz music is no longer conceivable without this dimension. Do you have an explanation for that?

NPM: I can speculate. You know, we are a small community in Norway; it is kind of transparent. We are all involved in small projects with traditional musicians, classical musicians, and noise artists. And then there is a quite strong musical tradition that doesn't have anything to do with the American music. I enjoy the music coming from there, but we improvise from quite different platforms. They improvise from swing, from standards, from the musicals of the '20s. That is all fine, but we come from a different place. I don't know how it evolves and why it develops in the way it does, but then again, there is no competition. It is a very open community, or at least I feel it that way, and you work with all kinds of musicians who create their own synergy.

AAJ: What would you identify as characteristic for Nordic Jazz?

NPM: Musicians like Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal and Jon Christensen took swing away from more straight jazz without being totally conscious about it, but I think that they have mainly shown that it is possible.

AAJ: Many people say that if something doesn't swing or groove, or is not black music, it is not jazz. What is jazz for you? Do you see it as a restrictive term?

NPM: Jazz is everything from Louis Armstrong to Cecil Taylor. That's a very big step, in a way. For me, the minute you start putting it into a category, you actually box it in. I think that most musicians want to be in a different place. I don't talk about my music as jazz; I just leave that to others. For me, jazz has to do with interaction and improvisation and what you improvise from is not so important as long as it is rooted in something real. Jazz for me is a platform from which I can improvise. Sometimes what we do is in many ways older and freer than what most Americans players do.

AAJ: Are you aware of the impact this group of jazz musicians had on the evolution of European jazz? Would you like to comment on that?

NPM: I don't know, actually. I think about it, but as I musician I can't see it so well. I can see where we started, and that now we are traveling around the world playing, people like it. But what I try to do is focus on the music. This question is something for the critics or journalists, I think.

AAJ: The rhythmic pattern, instrument processing and the long tones that you have so successfully influenced and developed render a certain hypnotic or ritual quality that sets the public in a state similar to trance. Do you think that this corresponds to an intrinsic musical evolution or that it also has a social implication?

NPM: What I try to do in every concert is to create a state where you simply exist, then and there. I wouldn't call it being in trance, but rather being in the stream. But on the other hand, yes, you are right; I think that people need that particular flow of energy in order to let go of the quotidian and their daily worries. It is a bit like looking at something beautiful or like having sex; you just let go. I think it is a give-and-take situation people need to experience more these days.

AAJ: Now that you are mentioning the energy flow, what happens when you close your eyes and there's just music around you, and you are there with your instrument? What are you thinking about in those moments? Is that something you can describe?

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