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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.

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