Ola Kvernberg Trio: Northern Tapes

John Kelman By

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Ola Kvernberg Trio: Ola Kvernberg Trio: Northern Tapes It's been three years since Ola Kvernberg released the ambitious Liarbird (Jazzland, 2011), a studio document of his 2010 Molde International Jazz Festival commission where guest Joshua Redman was recruited for the live performance, but where, far more than a ringer for Kvernberg, Redman was clearly awestruck by this virtuosic young violinist/composer. It's not that Kvernberg hasn't been busy, either: in addition to being a featured soloist, the same year, with Motorpsycho's progressive rock-heavy collaboration with Supersilent/Elephant9 keyboardist Ståle Storløkken, the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Trondheimsolistene string ensemble for another staggering live performance later documented on the even more impressive studio version, The Death-Defying Unicorn (Rune Grammofon, 2012), Kvernberg was the 2012 recipient of the Kongsberg Jazz Festival's DNB Kongsberg Jazz Award; caught in Molde in 2013 as part of Albatrosh's Mystery Orchestra and guesting in an incendiary expanded version of Bushman's Revenge along with saxophonist Kjetil Møster (whose Edvard Lygre Møster (Hubro, 2013) was one of last year's biggest and best surprises), as well as appearing in the new super group of young Norwegian stars from Motorpsycho, Bushman's Revenge and The Core, Grand General, whose eponymous Rune Grammofon debut was another of 2013's best.

With such a busy schedule, it's no surprise that it's taken Kvernberg five years to reunite the trio responsible for Folk (Jazzland, 2009), but expanded to the Trio+1 used to perform that album's music at the 2009 Nattjazz festival in Bergen, Norway. Northern Tapes is the first recording of Kvernberg's curiously configured four-piece Trio, but his third since debuting the original trio on Night Driver (Jazzland) in 2006 when he was just 25, but had already garnered attention on guitarist Jon Larsen's Hot Club label, where the emphasis for the classically trained violinist was more on gypsy swing.

Northern Tapes is Kvernberg's most expansive and ambitious recording with his trio (+1) yet; while it remains filled with open spaces and visions of expansive landscapes, Kvernberg contributes, along with bassist Steinar Raknes and drummers Erik Nylander and Børge Fjordheim, no less than ten instruments plus the seamlessly integrated electronics that have become a signature of the Norwegian scene since the watershed year of 1997-98 when Supersilent, Nils Petter Molvaer and Bugge Wesseltoft all burst onto the international scene. If those three were part of Norway's third wave of musicians after ECM Records first brought attention to Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen in the early '70s, Kvernberg and his generation surely represent the fourth wave that has emerged in the new millennium.

If Folk was a significant forward step over Night Driver, then Northern Tapes represents even greater growth. Despite being on the shy side of 40 minutes, Northern Tapes' seven Kvernberg compositions manage to demonstrate the violinist's ever-broadening purview. The layers of Kvernberg's bass violin and looped mandolin, blended with the restrained power of Nylander and Fjordheim and driven by Raknes' unshakable groove create the perfect context for Kvernberg to imbue, on the opening Wood Village," a curious nexus of roots Americana and Norwegian traditionalism, with hints of Indian microtonality and, ultimately, a grand sense of lyricism.

While possessing seemingly limitless virtuosity and compositional intent, Kvernberg has largely eschewed the youthful tendency to overplay and, instead, leans towards creating more ethereal soundworlds and subtle instrumental orchestrations where he bides his time patiently, as he does on the brighter-tempo'd "North," where Nylander and Fjordheim create a cymbal-heavy context for the violinist to evoke a surprisingly bluesy disposition that, as he layers more instruments, leads to a closing solo of long-held tones that fade over a plucked autoharp loop.

Clearly designed for vinyl release as well, Northern Tapes' first four tracks create a contiguous. side-long suite that builds to the climactic "Best Intentions," where Kvernberg solos on bass violin with great care over a near-military pulse and Raknes' arco bass. Rondo-like in its use of repetition, over the course of five-and-a-half minutes, Kvernberg's gradually growing vertical layers lead, after over 18 minutes of ever-shifting landscapes, to a throbbing, pulsating and most definitive finale.

"Coopers Joe" is a brush-driven piece of folkloric beauty, Kvernberg's overall choices of viola (here) and bass violin (elsewhere) invest his carefully constructed lines with a warm, rich timbre that, along with his carefully constructed layers, makes this a surprisingly full-sounding group despite its reliance on only two primary melodic instruments that have limited chordal capabilities.

If much of Northern Tapes seems about texture, groove, melody and patient construction, the album's nearly nine-minute penultimate track, "Leaving Lotte," makes clear that this group can turn up the heat with effortless aplomb, as Nylander and Fjordheim create an open-ended, frenetic dual-pulse that, bolstered by Raknes' ever-reliable but always pliant anchor, gives Kvernberg the opportunity to let loose with a slow-burning bass violin solo that builds in impressive intensity and dexterity to a potent climax.

There are but a few young violinists making a significant mark on the jazz scene, amongst them Zach Brock and Adam Baldych. Add to that list Ola Kvernberg—no secret in Norway, it's time that this remarkable string multi-instrumentalist makes some well-deserved inroads on an international level. Liarbird may be the more epic "special" project, but the chemistry of Kvernberg's four-piece trio, amply demonstrated on Northern Tapes, makes it both epic in its own right and the ideal entry point to hear what Norwegians already know about this world-class violinist/multi-instrumentalist, composer and bandleader.

Track Listing: Wood Village; North; Poweryard; Best Intentions; Cooper's Joe; Leaving Lotte; Lillesara.

Personnel: Ola Kvernberg: viola, violin, bass violin, cello, mandolin, ukulele, autoharp, percussion, Hammond B3, drums, electronics; Erik Nylander: drums, percussion; Børge Fjordheim: drums, percussion, autoharp; Steinar Raknes: double bass.

Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Jazzland Recordings | Style: Modern Jazz

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