Nils Petter Molvaer: Live at Rockefeller Center in Oslo

Mark Sabbatini By

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A new Ferrari with a bunch of dents is still a pretty nice gift.

Norwegian trumpet modernist Nils Petter Molvaer is offering its acoustical equivalent in an hour-long concert video recently posted free at his web site. It's a large file (291MB) that may frustrate novices trying to save it on their computers, and the video and sound quality are mediocre by professional standards, but the performance makes one overlook a lot of imperfections.

Downloadable music videos apparently are now "in" since Apple's iTunes Music Store is offering them - even if they've been awfully quiet about doing so. The paid videos possess limits, primarily limited visual quality and large file sizes, similar to those performers have been giving away for years. The flaw of many freebies is bands tend to compress audio quality too much as well to keep file sizes down - an often misguided effort, as will be explained.

I confess to being a Molvaer fan ever since some Alaska simpleton gave his Khmer album to the local Salvation Army, which forced it to keep company with New Kids On The Block and Milli Vanilli in the 25-cent bin. European ambient/ experimental nujazz is overcrowded with a lot of pretenders imitating a few genuine articles, and I consider Molvaer among the best of the latter.

This May 3, 2003, show won't disappoint listeners wanting to hear his sparse and deliberative phrasing against both meditative synth moods and intense beat-and-sample grooves. The set list, only a portion of which I know, seems to lean toward his 2002 album NP3 with songs like "Nebulizer" and "Hurry Slowly," although there is also a treatment of the title track from 2003's Solid Ether.

The 360-by-280 Quicktime video is dark with lots of blue-hue lighting, but the camera work is professional and it's enjoyable at a casual level. The expected large video background screens and flashing strobes are present, but most of the MTV-pace clips are tight shots of the players so the extra elements aren't a distraction. I blew it up to full- screen mode on my 17-inch Powerbook (equal to a 19-inch desktop monitor) and, at six feet away, it was definitely pixilated. But I've had worse TV pictures using rabbit-ear antennas in the mountains of Colorado. Besides, Molvaer's stage presence is a lot like Miles Davis - even when there's a heavy beat his body language, like his notes, tends to be controlled.

Speaking of Miles, Molvaer's electrically boosted tone tends to wander between the fusion timbre of the legend's final days and Pat Metheny's guitar synth. At times it gets overwhelmed by louder and more persistent instruments, but during subtler moments it's a thing of understated beauty and depth, much like Polish virtuoso Tomasz Stanko.

Bootleggers have been able to obtain discs containing a portion of this concert thanks to exchange sites like www.molvaer.de, which rates the sound quality as an "A" ("good to great"). Unfortunately, the "official" recording at Molvaer's site is almost certainly below this since it's a 32KHZ MP3 - roughly FM radio quality. It's definitely listenable and free of hiss, distortion and other amateur unpleasantness, but there's a overcompressed flatness that isn't helped much even by tweaking a computer music player's equalizer. Not to keep kicking a gift horse in the mouth, but bumping it up to so-called CD-quality would have added only 10 percent to the file's size since video is the true space hog. Those just wanting to listen to the concert (or make it playable in a portable player) can shrink it to a mere 36MB by stripping out the video using various editing programs.

The other frustration is saving the video. The link to the movie opens a page which displays it in a designated frame, but the "save" options on my Mac browsers failed to work properly. By looking at the page's source code I located a direct link to the movie (listed below), but many novices are unlikely to figure out this step without help.

Ultimately the sound and file problems are irritants, but get pushed out of mind when immersed in the concert. It's a lot less troublesome than going to Scandinavia for one of his relatively rare concerts (only one is scheduled so far this summer) and fans will find a number of shorter performances and interviews at the site. For fans of Miles-type fusion wanting to hear its evolution at its best, this is as good a venue as any.

Click here, for a direct link to the concert video. Once loaded, users should be able to use the "Save Page" feature in their browser's File menu, or do a right-click on the movie and perform a "Save File As" to store the movie on their hard drive.

Performers include: Nils Petter Molvaer, trumpet; Jan Bang, sampling and loops; Rune Arnesen, drums; D.J. Strangefruit, turntables; Reidar Skar, keyboards and sound treatment

Visit Nils Petter Molvaer on the web.


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