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Punkt Festival 2009: Day 4, Kristiansand, Norway, September 5, 2009

John Kelman By

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Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

For its fifth year, Punkt Festival's evening programming was, more than any other, organized around clearer thematic lines, although that still meant a considerably broader purview than most other festivals—and, of course, there was the occasional exception. The first day spotlighted up-and-coming talent; the second, largely more experimental improvisation; and the third, singer/songwriters. For Punkt 2009's final day, the emphasis was more decidedly on jazz, in conventional terms, than on any other. Still, within that very broad spectrum, the music ranged from a conventional piano trio format playing anything but traditional jazz; an improvising duo that has, for this performance, expanded to a quartet for a more chamber jazz approach; and an artist for whom his latest project doesn't just stretch the boundaries of jazz but dissolves them and, in so doing, creates an entirely new language.

The final day of Punkt usually involves a trip for its guests—artists, media, labels, publicists— that often means a chance to get out on the water for a chance to explore the marvelous scenery around Kristiansand, located at the southernmost tip of Norway. With the weather forecast less than cooperative, and with some special Punkt Seminar programming planned for the early afternoon, the activity this year may have been shorter and not involving water (other than some drizzle that continued to fall during the morning, but finally made way for sunshine in the afternoon), but it was no less thoughtful—an opportunity to hear Susanna & The Magical Orchestra unplugged, performing a brief concert at the 200 year-old Gimle Gård Manor House Museum.

The last day also delivered a couple of surprises for Punkt fans—one, for Punkt artists as well— that truly defined the multifaceted, multidisciplinary and always forward-thinking premise that if a concept is becoming too safe, too predictable, then the Punkt way is to shake it up and look for ways to get it out of its comfort zone. One of Punkt's biggest advocates in the media has been Fiona Talkington of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), who has not only been at the festival since its inception, but was instrumental in bringing it to London in 2008, for the festival's first road trip (the first, now, of many planned). With Live Remix one of the core premises of the festival, it's a moveable feast that only needs a venue with two rooms that can be connected technologically.

Talkington was recruited to be the festival's presenter for its fifth anniversary, and they couldn't have picked a more articulate spokesperson. Every introduction not only described the act to come, it contextualized it within the broader purview of the festival. Talkington also took the opportunity, twice during the festival, to conduct brief public interviews with its founding co-artistic directors, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré to shed some light on what they felt was the purpose of Live Remix. Bang described it as working simultaneously in the past, present and future, while Honoré explained that the festival's inception was founded, at least in one part, on a wish to take the concept of remix—originally an innovation but, by the turn of the century, something that had become corporatized and commoditized—back into experimental territory by removing the comfort zone of time. In the studio, he explained, producers sometimes have months to meticulously make their choices and shape their remixes; at Punkt, they usually have only minutes— something that can be both exciting and frightening at the same time.

As Punkt 2009 wound its way to the finish line, there was little doubt that nothing about it could be considered safe; and that with a remarkable new first—a remix of a remix—even its own innovations could be subject to the same desire to avoid predictability and caution on which it was initially founded.

Chapter Index
  1. Susanna & The Magical Orchestra
  2. Arve Henriksen "Cartography"
  3. Live Remix: Peter Tornqvist/Members of the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra
  4. Helge Lien Trio
  5. Bugge Wesseltoft/akiko
  6. Albatrosh, featuring Lene Grenager/Hild Sofie Tafjord
  7. Live Remix: Helge Sten/Jan Bang
  8. Punkt Kunst: "Exits"
  9. Festival Wrap-Up



Susanna & The Magical Orchestra

One of the biggest opportunities of attending Punkt is the chance to participate in one-time events, performances that will rarely, if ever, be heard again. And so, when a small group (under 20) of festival guests were driven up to Gimle Gård Manor House Museum for a short acoustic set by Susanna & The Magical Orchestra, following its Agder Theatre performance on Day Three, it was an even rarer privilege. Singer Susanna Wallumrø and keyboardist Morten Qvenild may well occasionally perform in an acoustic context—other than one electric keyboard used very sparingly and fed through the smallest of speakers, this was a completely unplugged performance, without microphones or PA system—but likely never in such beautiful surroundings as the museum.

Gimle Gård Manor House Museum, built towards the end of the 18th century, was a private home/mansion until the mid-1980s, when the family that owned it passed on and it was converted into a public museum. In a room lined with gorgeous artwork, it was an ideal context for Susanna & The Magical Orchestra's intimate performance—a five-song set that, rather than focusing on the duo's just released 3 (Rune Grammofon, 2009), culled most of its material from the all-covers Melody Mountain (Rune Grammofon, 2006) (with the exception of 3's rework of Roy Harper's melancholy "Another Day").

The duo performed an elegantly spacious version of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," a take on "Jolene" that was likely far darker than what Dolly Parton ever had in mind, and a completely stripped-down reworking of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart," contrasting with the duo's equally brooding but more texturally rich version from the night before. All too often, when a group is taken away from PA systems which allow the quietest moments to be clearly heard, and the benefits of live mixing, reverb and, in the case of Susanna & The Magical Orchestra, additional processing to expand the aural landscape, what's left are glaring deficiencies. Quite the opposite, Wallumrø's voice was even more commanding, bringing clarity to the quietest whisper. None of her nuances were lost and, if anything, her delivery was even more vulnerable and heart-breaking. Qvenild's playing was equally spare, even more empathically linked with Wallumrø than in the larger context of regular performances.

The high point of the brief set was Leonard Cohen's enduring "Hallelujah," even surpassing the duo's version on Melody Mountain. With a tremendous vocal range and potential for greater melisma, it would be far too easy for Wallumrø to fall into the trap of other Cohen interpreters who put their voices ahead of the words. Instead, it's Wallumrø and Qvenild's very talent that liberates them to fill every decaying note, every fragile phrase with profound meaning—not just on "Hallelujah," but in every song of this very special—and all-too-brief—performance.

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