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Punkt Festival 2010

John Kelman By

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September 4 Live Remix: Jan Bang/Jon Hassell/ Skúli Sverrisson/Erik Honoré

For the final remix of Punkt 2010, the festival invited the figure who is, perhaps more than any, the spiritual godfather of Punkt: Fourth World progenitor, Jon Hassell. In recent years, Hassell has been a regular Punkt participant—recruiting Bang, in fact, for his most recent album Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street (ECM, 2009) and his touring group, Maarifa Street. Bang and Hassell had just returned from Iceland, immediately before the festival, where they performed a duet in Reykjavik, and so it seems almost serendipitous that an Icelandic expat, bassist Skúli Sverrisson (now living in New York for many years), was also on-hand. Add Erik Honoré, and the result was a combination of old and new friends, coming together to remix a completely unexpected performance featuring a first-time collaboration.

Form left: Jon Hassell, Skúli Sverrisson

While Supersilent can approach beauty (albeit often form a very oblique perspective), the Live Remix posted a far gentler alternative to its incendiary main stage performance. Like most of the performances on Punkt's final day, The Alpha Room was packed to the rafters, this time with people curious to hear how Supersilent's one-of-a-kind performance could be reshaped and reinterpreted. More static than Supersilent's show, there was, nevertheless, a disturbing undercurrent, often rumbling underneath Hassell's pitch-shifted trumpet, with a staggered electric pulse providing forward motion as Sverrisson created his own undercurrent from a processed serious of repeated hammer- ons.

Hassell remixing Henriksen is a profound enough idea; the 2007 Live Remix, where Henriksen was invited to sit in with Hassell, was moving enough to literally bring some of its participants to tears afterwards; here, with Henriksen one step removed, it was moving as well, but in a different fashion, as Hassell worked with the feeds he was receiving from Bang and Honoré, the energy of the remix lifting, when Henriksen's drum segments were brought into play.

Watching Bang and Honoré, on opposite sides of the floor—there's no stage in The Alpha Room—only serves to cement the kind of empathy shared by the two. Bang, as ever, was the more visual of the two, moving to pulses that were clear and others that only he could hear; Honoré was almost completely motionless; the only sign of anything happening, the occasional slight smile, when things were going right.

Erik Honoré

And they were clearly going right during this relatively brief remix. Even Hassell— normally looking self-absorbed, although the interaction with his band mates on a deep, near-subconscious level was never less than crystal clear—came to smile at one point during the remix. It was a fitting end to Punkt 2010's series of Live Remixes. With Live Remixes—especially those that, perhaps, aren't as successful as the artists would like—the journey is always worth it, even when the destination isn't; but for Punkt 2010, and its consistently strong remixes, the destinations ended up being equally valuable.

September 4 Concert: Nils Petter Molvær Trio

When he played with his trio at Molde this year, as part of his Artist in Residence series, Nils Petter Molvær was down a member, with regular drummer Audun Kleive unable to attend. Sometimes, however, disadvantage can turn to advantage, as substitute drummer Erland Dahlen lit a serious fire under a group that, since the trumpeter recruited guitarist Stian Westerhus to replace the departing Eivind Aarset, has already upped the ante on energy, edge...and volume. For the closing concert at Punkt 2010, Molvær was able to bring his regular working trio, and the difference was palpable. Not better, not worse; simply different.

From left: Stian Westerhus, Nls Petter Molvær, Audun Kleive

There was something raw and unbridled about Dahlen that worked particularly well with Westerhus; Kleive, a more accomplished player, has a history that dates back to guitarist Terje Rypdal's renowned Chasers group of the 1980s, countless gigs touring around Europe with names such as guitarist Mike Stern and reed player Charles Lloyd, seminal work with Norwegian keyboardist Jon Balke and Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur, and his own recordings, including the stunning Bitt (Jazzland, 1997) and Generator X (Jazzland, 1999). The more seasoned Kleive brought a more orchestral percussive sensibility to Molvær's trio; no shortage of energy and groove, either, but in a more polished fashion that contrasted with Westerhus' jagged and seemingly unschooled approach (seemingly, because Westerhus is an educated musician, proof positive that in order to really break the rules you first have to know them). With a much larger kit than Dahlen's, Kleive's textural options were far greater, and at the start of the set, in fact, he stood, rather than being seated, at his drums, playing his kit more as if he were a percussionist in an orchestra than in a small improvising jazz group.

Unschooled he may appear, but Westerhus' reach is also orchestral, using his array of foot pedals—switched on and off with near reckless abandon, adjusting settings, and bringing them together in permutations and combinations—as much as he used unorthodox right hand techniques, scratching, scraping and bowing his strings as often as he picked them. In this constantly shifting landscape, culling material from past Molvær albums including the stellar Hamada (Sula, 2009), was so radically altered as to be almost unrecognizable ("the old stuff doesn't sound anything like the old stuff," he said in an All About Jazz interview, earlier this summer. "It's funny, because I don't really know which albums the tunes are from, so it's funny when you play a venue packed with old fans and Nils Petter starts playing a tune, and they go 'whaaaaaaaa!' and it's like, 'OK, it's an old tune, and they didn't clap because I'd stopped playing [laughs].") Westerhus and Kleive locked into some thundering, grungy grooves, giving Molvær a serious kick out of any comfort zone he might consider.

Stian Westerhus

Westerhus also said in his interview that "I'm kicking Nils Petter's ass a lot harder, and what he says is that, especially earlier—when they had a lot of DJs and beats and grooves going on—he could play a bit and then sit back a bit. Now he can't sit back at all—he's just really forced into playing a lot more. And it's so free now; we play tunes but, at the same time, if you see it from the other side, I only have one groove, one key and three chords that I have to do, so I can force Nils Petter into any corner I want, and he can force me into any corner he wants, which is great. You really need to be razor sharp when you go onto the stage, which is fantastic."

If Westerhus is kicking Molvær's ass, it's just as clear that the trumpeter is pushing his trio mates. As lyrical as ever, Molvær's evolution as a trumpeter has been a remarkable trip from his early days in the more acoustic, structure-based music of Masqualero, a stunning 1980s/1990s band co-led by bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen. If Masqualero taught Molvær about collective improvisation around a structured context, the form of his latest trio is as loose as it's ever been. Continuous sets move from song to song, but with long stretches of improvisation linking them in new ways each and every night. And with Molvær spending almost as much time singing into the bell of his trumpet as he was blowing into its mouthpiece—harmonizing, looping and layering these vocal textures to create rich washes of sound—he's far more consistently engaged. Yes, there are passages where he steps back to let Westerhus shape a new sonic premise, or Kleive find a new way to a groove; but this trio is a far harder-working and harder- edged group than any of his previous groups.

Nils Petter Molvær

The trio is also more overtly exploratory, rarely (if ever) repeating itself; in a set that lasted a little more than an hour, Molvær, Westerhus and Kleive made clear that the trumpeter has moved on significantly since his breakthrough record, Khmer (ECM, 1997). Molvær has, in fact, got some studio time booked to finally record this trio, and while it will likely be some time before it sees the light of day, after performance like this, one can only wait in eager anticipation.


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