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Punkt 07 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day Three, August 31, 2007

John Kelman By

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Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

While other festivals feature a diversity of artists across a longer period of time, there's simply no festival other than Punkt that manages to pack so much into three days of programming—and create the kind of environment where unexpected collaborations catalyze real magic, and expected encounters do the same by being given the free reign to try absolutely anything. Over its three-day run there are thirteen acts in the 500-seat Agder Theatre, and thirteen live remixes in the Alpha Room. It would be a little overwhelming if it weren't so exhilarating. It's not just about breaking down artistic boundaries, it's about eliminating any kind of barrier—artists, media and fans are able to interact throughout the festival, creating relationships that carry over from year-to-year, with an ever-growing "Punkt Family."
Chapter Index
  1. Solveig Slettahjell/Slow Motion Quintet
  2. Solveig Slettahjell/Slow Motion Quintet Live Remix: Scanner/David Rothenberg
  3. Trio Mediæval
  4. Trio Mediæval Live Remix: Erik Honoré/Nils Chr. Moe-Repstad
  5. Kammerflimmer Kollektief
  6. Sweet Billy Pilgrim
  7. Sweet Billy Pilgrim Live Remix: Sidsel Endresen/Jan Bang/Erik Honoré

Solveig Slettahjell/Slow Motion Quintet

Norwegian vocalist Solveig Slettahjell and her Slow Motion Quintet— pianist/keyboardist Morten Qvenild (of In the Country), trumpeter Sjur Miljeteig, bassist Mats Eilertsen (familiar to fans of ECM artists including Jacob Young and Thomas Strønen's Parish ) and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen (member of the collaborative ECM group The Source and co-Source member Trygve Seim's group)—have a premise that, in the hands of lesser mortals, would sound suspiciously like shtick: take jazz standards and slow them down. Way down.

But over the course of a series of albums the group has made a strong case for the premise. Much in the way that Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen has created a critically acclaimed career out of mining the subdivisions in medium-to-slow tempos, Slow Motion Quintet proves that just because it's slow doesn't mean it can't be powerful. The group's performance, opening Day Two of Punkt programming, was not just dynamic: at certain points it kicked serious butt.

Slettahjell performed material largely from her most recent release, Good Rain (ACT, 2006), her first album of largely original material. But while the songs are distanced from the standards she's sung in the past, the approach is the same.

Slettahjell possesses the kind of voice that can stretch out a lyric and find plenty to do with it, while avoiding the kind of melodramatic bravado many singers rely upon to create energy. While she lacks nothing in the power department, it's her way of making a phrase sustain almost indefinitely, letting it finish conclusively but subtly, that's one of her greatest strengths. Capable of power and a surprising range, which revealed itself more as the set progressed, it's her ability to use her skill with great care that makes it all the more dynamic when she does raise the temperature.

The same restraint that Qvenild demonstrates with In the Country was at work here. While he used synthesizers to create pads, occasional rhythm programs and, at times, a strange, almost underwater-sounding ambience, it was his piano playing that dominated, despite being largely understated. His approach, while spare, isn't averse to idiosyncratic twists and turns that upend even relatively conventional changes, vamps or pedal tone-driven tunes. Miljeteig acted largely as a foil for Slettahjell, mirroring or responding to her lines, but also creating some unusual textures of his own. It seems that Norway has the market cornered on expanding the sound of the trumpet, based on Miljeteig, Mathias Eick, Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvær.

Eilertsen has proven, depending on the context, to be equally capable in a firm supporting role or an interactive conversationalist one. Here he's largely an anchor, which is a good thing, since Johansen has emerged as one of the most temporally flexible drummers since Jon Christensen. Like Christensen, he's capable of maintaining a pulse, but often in ways that are either implied or, like a house of cards, resting on a fragile combination of elements. Still, as the set ended he played with a near rock edge that would surprise those only familiar with his more nuanced work for ECM.

While encores are often requested but relatively rarely permitted in order to keep Punkt's tight schedule on track, the enthusiastic audience refused to let Slettahjell and the group off the hook. It's a good thing the quintet chose a more relaxed song or they'd never have managed to leave the stage.

Solveig Slettahjell/Slow Motion Quintet Live Remix: Scanner/David Rothenberg

If there are no rules at Punkt shows, the live remixes in the Alpha Room are the equivalent of unfettered sonic laboratories, where the music from the previous theatre show is altered, often beyond all recognition, while the artists who participate in the remix are encountering not just the music but each other for the first time. David Rothenberg is an American clarinetist/philosophy professor with a small but intriguing discography and no small acquaintance with sound sculpting—including work with recorded bird sounds that is a far cry from the New Age meanderings of most music/nature collaborations. Scanner is Robin Rimbaud, a British ambient/electronic experimentalist who has collaborated with other sonic manipulators including Bill Laswell and DJ Spooky.

The remix of Solveig Slettahjell and Slow Motion Quintet began in dark territory, with a dense pulse over which Rothenberg layered some avant-tinged lines. As a more propulsive and techno pulse began to emerge, Slettahjell's voice was twisted and turned, sped up and slowed down while Rothenberg continued to work with the harmonic foundation created by Slow Motion, although Scanner's beats brought up the tempo. Rothenberg's engagement with the music was clear—the most visually engaged artist on the 2007 Punkt roster next to Jan Bang. Switching to a wooden flute, and then a Norwegian flute variant, he began to loop his own playing, adding to the vertical depth of the remix.

A second remix took a more decidedly melodic turn, despite a certain chaotic element at the start. Rothenberg, returning to clarinet, managed to add a percussive element by slapping the keys of the instrument, while Scanner's liberal processing of the feeds from Slow Motion turned the piece into another compelling example of how radically different a piece of music can be perceived from different vantage points. For a first encounter, Rothenberg and Scanner were clearly in synch.


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