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Punkt Festival 2010

John Kelman By

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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.


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.

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