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Punkt Festival 2010

John Kelman By

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September 3 Concert: Jan Bang: ...and poppies from Kandahar

When Punkt Co-Artistic Director Jan Bang released his first album as a leader, ...and poppies from Kandahar (SamadhiSound, 2010), he described it as a continuation of the collaboration he started with Arve Henriksen on Cartography (ECM, 2008). But while samples were fundamental to Henriksen's record, there was still no shortage of real-time playing taking place. While Bang sent files around to individual musicians—most of them, part of the extended Punkt family—to layer additional performances, what makes the record unique is Bang's compositional approach, culling samples from performances spanning the last several years, and hearing connections between them, that the live sampler would use to create the atmospheric journeys that make up the album.



And so, with an album built mostly from samples, how would a live performance of ...and poppies sound? Well, by bringing together some of the album's most significant players—in addition to Henriksen, trumpeter/keyboardist Jon Hassell, singer Sidsel Endresen, sampler/synthesist Erik Honoré and Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson—Bang shaped a band capable of bringing the album to life—not only delivering much of the album's extant structure, but expanding upon it, turning relative miniatures like the Endresen feature, "The Midwife's Dilemma" into something far greater.

Performed in the same sequence, Bang's performance also allowed for some interplay that wasn't exactly possible on the record, even though some of the sampled performances were, in fact, culled from other live performances, where interaction took place. The twin trumpets of Hassell and Henriksen on the album's longest track, the sensually grooving "Passport Control," came from the Fourth World progenitor's Punkt 2007 closing remix of a performance by keyboardist Burnt Friedman, drummer Jaki Liebezeit and reedman Hayden Chisholm, where Henriksen was an invited guest. Bang could have reused that sample for his Punkt 2010 performance, but by featuring the two trumpeters in the flesh, it allowed for the same kind of unpredictability that inspired Bang's writing in the first place.

Bassist Lars Danielsson On Projection Screen, from left: Jan Bang, Jon Hassell

As with the album, the music ranged from painfully beautiful to, at times, dark and disturbing, with visuals that suited the sometimes amorphous, always shifting nature of Bang's music. There were few breaks in the set, most of the music flowing as continuously as it did on the record, with Bang, as ever, finding rhythm in every nook and cranny. Despite being the leader of the performance, he took his usual place at the far end of stage left with minimal lighting, greater visual focus placed on the soloists, ranging from Endresen, whose stuttering yet harmonically centered vocalizations on "The Midwife's Dilemma" were an early highlight, along with Henriksen's near-vocal trumpet. Danielsson, who only appears on one track on the CD, the abstract "Self Injury," brought a firmer sense of pulse to pieces like "Passport Control," while Hassell's trumpet on the album closer, "Exile from Paradise," provided one of the set's most haunting moments.

Until, that is, "Exile from Paradise" segued into the title track to Endresen's 2000 Jazzland recording, Undertow. It was a sample from that song that Bang used to build his own album closer, and so it made perfect sense to draw his live set to a close by performing the song in its entirety. If Endresen's more oblique excursions into vocal improvisations leave anyone doubting the gorgeous quality of her voice—and her ability to evoke a range of emotions with the subtlest of inflections—this performance set any such concerns to rest. That her more experimental work retains an inherent musicality is beyond question; but hearing her perform an actual song only makes clear just how significant a singer she has been and continues to be.

From left: Arve Henriksen, Jan Bang

Selfless, as ever, it's this kind of "check your ego at the door" thinking that has made a festival that engenders tremendous loyalty (discussions around the festival this year raised the question: "has anyone ever not liked a Punkt festival?" The resounding answer: "No."), and a burning desire to attend each and every year. That Bang has taken the live sampling concept—innovated in the mid-1990s with Bugge Wesseltoft—his already extensive studio background, and a giving personality that encourages everyone around him to deliver the best they can, to turn in one of the year's best records is no surprise to anyone who knows him. That he was able to take a recording that was the epitome of studio concoction and turn it in to a live performance of gentle beauty and profound depth may have been no surprise either; rich, and filled with the emotions that comprise the complex human condition, it's clear that Bang's artistic reach is matched only by his humility and unfailing generosity.

September 3 Live Remix: Dino J.A. Deane/Håkon Kornstad/Anders Engen/David Wallumrød

The beauty of Punkt and its Live Remix concept is how its family continues to expand with each passing year. Musicians come to the festival for the first time and are instantly drawn in; others may have been here before, but find themselves collaborating with friends both old and new. An intriguing quartet was put together for the Live Remix of Bang's performance. A past collaborator with Hassell, and with a sizable discography under his own name, J.A. Deane began life as a session trombonist in the 1970s, but in the ensuing decades has become increasingly involved in the electronic side of things, moving into the arena of live sampling, in addition to being an ever-reaching experimentalist with new instruments like the three-string lap steel dulcimer he had built for him recently by Quintin Stephens. Deane made his first appearance at Punkt in 2009 as part of percussionist Adam Rudolph's large Go: Organic Orchestra. This year, in addition to this remix, he organized the festival's opening show on September 2, conducting students of the University of Agder, as well as delivering a seminar on performance/improvisation and live electronics.

Saxophonist Håkon Kornstad was no stranger to Punkt, having performed in contexts ranging from his groundbreaking group, Wibutee, in 2006, to a solo performance in 2008, where his use of looping and unorthodox instruments like the flutonette (a flute with a clarinet mouthpiece) made it one of the festival's most impressive sets. Keyboardist David Wallumrød and drummer Anders Engen were new to Punkt this year, but with performances at this remix and the following day with singer/songwriter Unni Wilhelmsen, it's a certainty that they'd become members of growing Punkt family.

The remix was more about interpretation than remix, though Deane did incorporate pieces of Bang's performance, creating layer-upon-layer of sonic washes as a context for Kornstad, whose combination of extended techniques and electronics continues to evolve. Harmonically static, Engen created the gentlest of pulses, while Wallumrød augmented the remix with his own soundscapes. Still, ten minutes into the remix, Endresen's vocals from "The Midwife's Dilemma" suddenly appeared, sparking some staggered responses from Kornstad, who was perhaps most familiar with the singer's work, having performed with her in a series of duo concerts in 2009. Moving to flutonette, Kornstad, in particular, demonstrated open ears to the movement around him; while his personal focus is increasingly on solo performance, sets like this, his all-improv 2010 Kongsberg show with drummer John Hollenbeck and bassist Skúli Sverrisson, and his work in violinist Ola Kvernberg's "Liarbird" show at Molde Jazz earlier this summer, prove that he's lost none of his ability to work in spontaneous collectives.

J.A. Deane

The quartet's remix may have appeared somewhat static on the surface, but the multiple layers and a gentle sense of forward motion made it a suitably sublime rework of Bang's transcendent ...and poppies performance.

September 3 Concert: Skúli Sverrisson

Perhaps best-known in recent years for his work as musical director for avant-popster Laurie Anderson, participation in drummer Jim Black's AlasNoAxis, and some hard-hitting fusion on guitar icon Allan Holdsworth's Hard Hat Area (Restless, 1994), Icelandic bassist Skúli Sverrisson's own music, in particular the richly layered, heartfelt Sería (12 Tónar, 2007) (winner of the Icelandic Music Awards' "Album of the Year") leans more towards composition than performance. Not that Sverrisson isn't a terrific bassist; he is, but with a personal approach that eschews most standard bass conventions, substituting textural and chordal harmony for groove and centering.

From left: Skúli Sverrisson, Eyvind Kang

For his first visit to Punkt, Sverrisson brought a unique chamber group to perform music from Sería, as well as a new album that's been recorded and is due out any day. Fans of Bill Frisell fortunate enough to have caught the guitarist on tour this summer, with his Beautiful Dreamers trio, will have seen violist Eyvind Kang; here, with Sverrisson, his role was more interpretive, performing the bassist's sublimely structured compositions. Less about defined solo space and more about collective ambiance, Kang's ability to play at levels so quiet it was almost necessary to lean forward to hear him, made him a compelling lead instrumentalist throughout the set.

Cellist Hildur Gudnadottir provided more pulse than Sverrisson, occasionally adding wordless vocals to the mix, while keyboardist David Thor Jonsson provided textural backdrops with work inside and out of the piano box, and subtle synth colorations. Sverrisson played his five-string electric bass more like a guitar, with finger- picked arpeggios often driving the music, as well as expansive sonic washes created via strumming, a volume pedal and a variety of effects processing. His writing was almost hypnotic, seemingly static on the surface, but revealing movement over time. The overall ambiance was hushed, with traces of folk music and contemporary classical music imbuing a set that seemed to morph seamlessly from one piece to the next.

Again, Tord Knudsen's lighting augmented the music perfectly, with constant shifts as gradually unfolding as the music; a backdrop of floating stars gradually intensifying only to shift to vertical bars of gray, creating a visual travelogue to the aural one being created by Sverrisson, Kang, Jonsson and Gudnadottir.



Following earlier performances by Bang and Tormis/Segakoor Noruss, Sverrisson's set completed a trifecta of shows heavy on subtle shadings, and dynamics so subtle that the barest of changes felt intense and dramatic. Whether or not Punkt had a theme in mind for its Friday performances (and the closing double bill that ended with the aggressive rock stance of Serena Maneesh would suggest not), its programming of these three artists turned out to be ideal; combining elements from so many sources to further the idea of Punkt as a festival that doesn't just bend the rules, but thoroughly demolishes them.

September 3 Live Remix: Sidsel Endresen/Jan Bang/Erik Honoré

As much as Jan Bang explained, in his 2010 All About Jazz interview, how Punkt strives to find artists to perform in the main theater that would be perfect fodder for remix, choosing who to do the remix is equally important. Sometimes, pairing up musicians who are encountering each other for the first time forges new relationships that continue on; other times, bringing together artists who know each other so intimately that the remix becomes almost an extension of their other work together can yield terrific results. Ban and Erik Honoré have been collaborating since their teen years, and have worked with Sidsel Endresen for nearly two decades. Bringing the three together for the final remix of the night was perfect; few understand the concept of Live Remix better than the two who created the concept, and Endresen has proven, time and again, to be an astute listener and interpreter.

Erik Honoré

Endresen began the trio's remix of Sverrisson's performance alone, with Bang and Honoré gradually introducing processed fragments of the bassist's music into the mix. Greater emphasiz on Gudnadottir's cello dominated the first half of the remix, with a kind of hovering feeling—not unlike that of Sverrisson—defining it, as Bang's body language expressed a hidden pulse as an electronic beat began to emerge, and Endresen's voice was sampled, harmonized and looped.

From left: Jan Bang, Sidsel Endresen

More a starting point than a full remix, the comfortable communication between the three pervaded, with Bang smiling as Endresen began to sing a particularly haunting melody, and Honoré—rarely moving, but communicating with his trio mates on a more subliminal level—brought in stronger elements of cello, viola and piano. Like the remix of Bang's own performance, this trio's rework and expansion of Sverrisson's music retained its innate beauty, but layered additional colors and unexpected rhythms to demonstrate just how far a remix can go, while never losing site of its reference points.

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