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Punkt Festival 2010

John Kelman By

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September 4: Boat Trip/Kilden

Every year, on the final day of Punkt, guests of the festival are taken on a daytime trip that, weather permitting, usually involves a boat trip around the islands off the coast of Kristiansand. The past couple years were marred by inclement weather, but the sun was shining on September 4, the final day of Punkt 2010. And so, a number of speed boats took a group of about 20 people to an island where a sheep farm was still active.

Punkt's guests—musicians and journalists/photographers, as well as festival volunteers; even Jan Bang who, for the first time in five years, attended and took a little well- deserved break during the festival—were treated to a simple but lovely lunch of bread, wine and fish soup. A brief speech from a municipal representative shed some more light on Kilden, the new arts center being built that, when it opens in January, 2012, will house Punkt and give it more room to grow.

Kilden Construction Site

More than "just an arts center," however, what makes Kilden special—in Norway and, in many ways, the world—is its plan to house the town's theater company, symphony orchestra, opera and more. By housing these groups under one roof (physical and organizational), it will engender easier collaboration. Kristiansand may only be a town of 80,000, but like Punkt, it clearly thinks big; a small place that continues to find ways to put itself on a larger national and international map. Going by the construction site, on the way back to Kristiansand, it was already clear—with its stunning use of curved wooden panels on the outside—that this is going to be a stunning structure, on a scale simply unheard of in towns of similar size in North America.

Lunch on the Farm

Attending the lunch also provided an opportunity to experience one of the many unique aspects of Punkt. Most festivals cement their programs far in advance of the event, but Punkt always leaves room for flexibility in the Live Remixes. The 2010 program had nothing but "tba" listed for remixes of both Supersilent and the double concert featuring the improvising duo of guitarist Stian Westerhus and singer Sidsel Endresen, and roots-guitarist Knut Reiersrud. Standing around after lunch, speaking with J.A. Deane, Jan Bang suddenly appeared, saying to Deane, "we have a double show with guitarist Knut Reiersrud, and a duo with Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus; the new guitarist on the scene. Would you be interested in doing the remix?" After about a millisecond of thought, Deane replied, simply, "Sure."

It was that easy; demonstrative of Punkt's open and flexible nature; a festival with no shortage of logistical planning to allow for the rapid change of sets and groups in both the theater and Alpha Room, but equally, an event where decisions can be made on the fly, to encourage collaboration and interaction on a level rarely seen or heard at a music festival.

Traveling off the coast of Kristiansand, Norway

After a leisurely lunch, Punkt's guests were taken back to town, for a little downtime in preparation for Punkt's final night of programming and, in addition to shows already planned—and remixes just decided—a surprise that would make Punkt 2010 even more special, more rare.


September 4 Concert: Unni Wilhelmsen

With the release of 7 (St. Cecilia Music, 2010), Norwegian singer/songwriter Unni Wilhelmsen took a step in a new direction, collaborating with Jan Bang and Erik Honoré to give her compellingly honest songs a different treatment than on her previous six releases, including her breakthrough To Whom It May Concern (Polygram, 1997), recipient of two Norwegian Grammy Awards that year ("Best Female Artist of the Year," "Best Album of the Year"). Surprisingly, when invited to Punkt to perform, rather than collaborating with Bang and Honoré to replicate the programd beats and electro-centric production of the record, she chose to deliver its songs with a largely acoustic group, featuring bassist Lars Danielsson (heard the previous evening in Bang's ...and poppies from Kandahar performance), along with keyboardist David Wallumrød and drummer Anders Engen (also heard the previous night at the Live Remix of Bang's show), and background vocalist Ronny Johnsen.

Unni Wilhelmsen

All of her band mates had performed on 7, but only on selected tracks and with a much different emphasiz. Here, with Wilhelmsen alternating between guitar and piano ("Since I have a big stage, I'm going to use it"), her set—consisting primarily of songs from 7 but with one nod back to her 1997 debut—the group delivered the songs with a similar elegant gentility. Arve Henriksen dropped in to play on the two songs on which he guested on 7—the haunting "Pedestrian Slow" and "Orange"—both played more directly by the group and, without Bang and Honoré's soft soundscapes and treatments, relying more on the trumpeter's personal voice and inherent lyricism.

Wilhelmsen introduced all the songs with a combination of self-deprecating humor, referring to her partner as the person she "shares an address with," rather than boyfriend, as she described the circumstances surrounding "Oranges," a particularly personal song about the singer/songwriter at her most vulnerable. She was clearly enjoying herself, quickly engaging the audience as she described how the smallest kernel can lead to a song idea, the source for "Pedestrian Slow" being a sign on a subway train in Oslo, "Remain on the train in case of evacuation." Her voice combined confidence and fragility, delivering a version of her set-closer, Joni Mitchell's enduring "Both Sides Now," that actually surpasses her recorded version.



With a relatively spare and direct stage setup and lighting, everything relied on Wilhelmsen's delivery and the support of her group. Danielsson, playing electric bass for most of the set (a rarity, these days), pushed the groove but also acted as a melodic foil, while Wallumrød contributed a soft cushion of textural support and Engen's pliant time sense kept the group focused, but left plenty of room to move. Much like Hanne Hukkelberg's performance at Punkt 2006, Wilhelmsen provided further proof that there are absolutely no stylistic boundaries at Punkt, as she opened the final evening with an honest and immediate singer/songwriter set that set the stage for an evening about to travel from roots music to the furthest extremes of spontaneous improvisation, and more.


Punkt Festival 09 / Pal Strangefruit Nyhus September 4 Live Remix: Mungolian Jet Set

Once again, Punkt recruited BBC Radio's Fiona Talkington—host of the successful Late Night Junction and curator of numerous British events including the November, 2008 Punkt festival at King's Place, part of the two-week Scene Norway mini-festival, within the purview of the London Jazz Festival—to host Punkt and introduce the performances in the main theatre. As ever, her heartfelt and warm persona—and broad musical expertise—not only created artist intros that opened a brief contextual window for the audience, but built, over the course of the festival, a broader perspective on the artists and the festival. In her intro to Wilhelmsen's set, she invited Erik Honoré to accompany her for a brief dialogue, where the Punkt Artistic Co-Director talked about how the festival looks to break down barriers and strengthen foundations for the future. Little did Honoré know that his intro for Wilhelmsen—simply, "Ladies and Gentlement...Unni Wilhelmsen"—would be the initial grist for a Live Remix to the singer/songwriter's set that would bring a clear sense of humor into the mix.

Of course, it was no surprise that a remix by Mungolian Jet Set—the moniker used by longtime Punkt friend/turntablist Pål "Strangefruit" Nyhus, and his equally longstanding partner in crime, Knut Sævik—would be heavy on the fun factor, especially from Nyhus, whose last words the day after Punkt 2009 ended, were "May the Mung be with you," and who struck a mighty disco pose at his daytime seminar the same year, a discourse on the early days of disco in the 1970s, when it was still an underground movement. Beginning with a sample of Honoré's intro, Mungolian Jet Set proceeded to loop, fragment, pitch shift and twist and turn Honoré's words; eliciting not only a lot of laughter from the packed Alpha Room, but some surprise from Wilhemsen herself, seated on the floor at the front of the house. Wilhemsen, it seems, had no idea that her set was going to be remixed, and for a "remix virgin," it was hard to imagine a better pair of musicians than Nyhus and Sævik to give Wilhemsen her first experience.

Honoré also mentioned, in his onstage dialogue with Talkington, that this year's festival would lay to rest, once and for all, any suggestions that Punkt was only about ambient music. Not that there would be anything wrong with that—and surely a misinformed suggestion when looking back at the festival's past five years—Mungolian Jet Set's remix also laid waste to the claim, as it took Wilhelmsen's music and, with an appropriate degree of reverence and utter disrespect (but in the most loving way possible), moved from Honoré's words to one of Wilhemsen's own introductions ("I have the best job in the world"). Henriksen's trumpet was gradually brought into the mix, along with a minimalism-informed pulse that gave the remix a danceability factor of 11—though, with shifts in time and assorted staggered beats, it was dance music for the temporally challenged.

Mungolian Jet Set's Knut Sævik

Given that Mungolian Jet Set is all about remix—its We Gave It All Away...Now We Are Taking It Back (Smalltown Supersound, 2009) a whopping double-disc set of remixes featuring a wealth of Norwegian collaborators, including Punkt regulars and past performers such as Nils Petter Molvær, guitarist Eivind Aarset and singer Mari Boine—its participation at Punkt is a given. In past years, Mungolian Jet Set held court at the festival's late night Punkt Klubb, but this Live Remix was to be its only official performance this year. Still, as capable as Jet Set is of doing remixes, much of its work takes place in the studio, where there's time to try ideas out before deciding if they're worth putting out to the world. With Live Remix, choices have to be made in a nanosecond, and there's no chance to take them back; as the Jet Set's remix continued, it became clear that both Nyhus and Sævik possessed incredible intuition, and real-time instincts comparable (but different) to Bang and Honoré, when it comes to absorbing a huge palette of sound, grabbing fragments of interest on the fly, and creating a remix that had surprising shape and focus.

In a year where every remix was memorable, Mungolian Jet Set's work with WIlhemsen's music will stand out as the most groove-driven and just plain fun Live Remix of the festival.


September 4 Double Concert: Sidsel Endresen/Stian Westerhus and Knut Reiersrud

For the past couple years, Punkt has been creating double bills of artists that compare and contrast. An acoustic solo set by singer Sidsel Endresen, for example, was paired with a more expansively electronic set from Maja Ratkje. The idea of pairing guitarists Stian Westerhus (in duet with Endresen) and Knut Reirsrud only served to demonstrate how remarkable each was: one, a masterful student of tradition; the other an intentionally irreverent dispenser of all orthodoxy.

Westerhus and Endresen have only begun collaborating recently, but their performance at Molde Jazz Festival, earlier this summer, was a clear shot across the bow; an announcement of a new improvising duo capable of great extremes...and, occasionally, even greater beauty.

From left: Stian Westerhus, Knut Reiersrud

The duo's set at Punkt was, by necessity, shorter than their Molde show, but demonstrated just how far Westerhus and Endresen have come in just a couple of months. Westerhus—as usual, with a number of large amplifiers and a pedal setup so complex that it made his absolute command of it all the more incredible—created sonic landscapes of jagged, angular beauty, using a regular Gibson hollow body electric and a Dan Electro electric baritone guitar. Endresen, seated way across the stage, may have been distanced physically, but her connection with Westerhus on an instinctive musical level was even more profound than it was at Molde. Her ability to vocalize sounds that really shouldn't be possible with the human voice was pushed to its limits by Westerhus, whose ability to pull otherworldly sounds out of his rig was equally unexpected, unpredictable and unrelenting.

The two found ways to twist and turn—each taking cues from the other; pushing and pulling; and giving and taking. Brief solo spots allowed each to drive the improvisation in a new direction, the sum total being an exhilarating example of focused improvisation at its best. But what was most important about the set was the degree of risk-taking going on; this duo is all about chance, but here, with more time spent performing together, they were continually out on the precipice, leaning over into the abyss so far that it was only due to their inherent control that they never actual took the plunge.

Westerhus is clearly the new "enfant terrible" of the guitar, a position supported by his recently released solo record, Pitch Black Star Spangled (Rune Grammofon, 2010); Reiersrud may be a less-known entity, but on the strength of his recent Gitar (Jazzland, 2010) alone, he's an artist deserving of far greater recognition. More conventional, yes; but with a command of his instrument that has allowed him to fit within a multiplicity of musical contexts.

Knut Reiersrud

Gitar is a roots-based record, with much to compare it to the soundtrack work of American musical archivist and Buena Vista Social Club (Nonesuch, 1997) creator, Ry Cooder. Some of the darker pieces on the album are reminiscent of Cooder's soundtrack to Wim Wenders' 1984 classic, Paris, Texas, and Reiersrud—dressed in a funky suit, with a red fedora blocking his face much of the time—opened his short set with an acoustic slide guitar solo piece redolent of that same space. Unlike Cooder, however, and more like his fellow Norwegians, Reiersrud also made judicious use of looping to create a larger landscape for his virtuosic playing.

Reiersrud's roots credibility and sheer comfort onstage became even more evident when he delivered a soft, heartfelt and blues-drenched version of "She's Got the Whole World in Her Hands." A more sophisticated player than Cooder, Reiersrud used alternative tunings, capos and other devices to deliver a set that packed a lot into a short space. A remarkably lithe right hand—whether flat-picking, finger-picking or bowing his acoustic guitar to create orchestral breadth—was matched by a left hand that moved around the neck with the kind of comfort that only comes from years of practice and performance. Relaxed, even when he was playing at lightning speed on material that combined blues roots with Norwegian folk traditionalism, it was a perfect contrast to Westerhus and Endresen's set. The duo may have proved the value of dispensing with convention, but Reiersrud demonstrated that, in the right hands, there's nothing constraining about working within it, either.

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