Punkt Festival 2010

John Kelman By

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September 4 Live Remix: Dino J.A. Deane/Nils Petter Molvær

When Jan Bang invited J.A. Deane to remix the Westerhus and Endresen/Reiersrud double concert, the American live sampler knew nothing of either artist, nor was he familiar with trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær; when Deane made his first Punkt appearance in 2009, it was the first year, since the festival's inception, that Molvær was absent. As of that afternoon, in fact, the decision to ask Molvær to participate had yet to be made. All of which meant that this remix represented the best of Punkt: the bringing together of musicians previously unfamiliar with each other, based on the intuitive feeling, by Bang and/or Honoré, that it would be an inspired combination.

From left: Nils Petter Molvær, J.A. Deane

It was. Most Live Remixes of double concerts look for ways to use both sets, but usually as separate entities. All the more remarkable, then, that Deane heard a connection between two performances that, on the surface, could not have been more different: Westerhus and Endresen completely spontaneous, unconventional and edgy; Reiersrud all about working within structure and tradition. And yet, Deane heard points of confluence in the two sets, and in his remix actually brought Westerhus and Reiersrud together for a virtual duo set that might have been.

Combining Reiersrud's rootsy altered tunings and Westerhus' complete rejection of such devices, Deane created shifting landscapes, over which Molvær judiciously layered his own distinctive lyricism. Without any of his usual devices, Molvær was left to his own acoustic tone and some pure, unaffected melodic ideas. Although it was Molvær who introduced Arve Henriksen to shakuhachi recordings, and the beginning of a search for a new sound for the younger trumpeter, the influence of the Japanese end- blown wooden or bamboo flute on Molvær remains clear and unmistakable; still, his sound remains his own, with a tarter edge, even when his lines approach near-vocal expressiveness. Listening intently to Deane's gradually evolving soundscape, Molvær's discretion was as impressive as the notes he played, as he listened intently for just the right moment.

How a Live Remix begins and how it ends is, perhaps, one of its most challenging aspects: how to know, amongst a group of players, that the time is up and it's time to wrap things up. As Deane began to sample Molvær, and layer his own lines beneath the trumpeter, it was this mix of in-the-moment playing with fragments from the main theater performance that led inevitably to a logical conclusion, as Deane slowly faded to black, and Molvær created a definitive ending with a very spare, very simple descending line that brought the remix to a perfect end.

September 4 Concert: Supersilent and a Surprise Guest

Punkt may be, in terms of size, a small festival; but it's one that has, since inception, been gaining an international reputation in leaps and bounds. Brian Eno attended the festival in 2008, and contributed his 77 Million Paintings for Punkt, multimedia installation, to Punkt Kunst, at the Sørlandets Kunstmuseum; British avant-singer David Sylvian, who already has ties to Punkt through work with some of its regulars—not to mention releasing Jan Bang's ...and poppies from Kandahar on his SamadhiSound label, contributing both the album and track titles—is rumored to be interested in attending in a future year. But nobody would have expected an ex-member of British rock group Led Zeppelin to be in attendance at Punkt, much less performing at it.

John Paul Jones

It was inevitable, however, after Zeppelin bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones attended Punkt in London, in 2008. Excited by what he saw and heard, he decided to make the trip to Kristiansand, initially as an attendee. But, bringing his bass and a laptop computer along, he offered to perform a short opening set somewhere during the program; setting up at the same time as Norwegian noise improv group Supersilent on the afternoon of the last day, however, one thing led to another, and the next thing everyone knew, Jones was not only going to do his opening set for Supersilent; he was going to sit in with them as well.

Those only familiar with Jones' Zeppelin work might find this an odd combination, but Jones has been a sonic experimenter long after Zeppelin was over; since the group's demise in 1980, Jones has collaborated with artists including Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, R.E.M. and Sonic Youth. At the turn of the millennium, Jones released two albums that focused on his multi-instrumentalism and, collaborating on one of them, with King Crimson co-founder Robert Fripp, he found himself on tour co- headlining with Crimson. He's been involved in soundtrack work as well, and it was from a score to a dance piece that Jones culled the solo bass performance that opened Supersilent's set.

Of course, armed with a laptop computer—this was Punkt, after all— this was no conventional bass solo, as Jones began with relatively normal textures, but gradually moved to greater extremes, using ring modulation to create oblique harmonies, overdrive to create dense textures, and assorted other effects to create a piece that ebbed and flowed, building to periodic climaxes only to settle and begin the climb once again. Beautiful chords gave way to angular expressionism, as Jones delivered a short set that, for those unfamiliar with his post-Zep work, must have been a shock to the system, but set a clear context for the collaboration with Supersilent to follow.

Despite Jones' inherent star power, when Supersilent took to the stage, he became just another member of the band; with Henriksen beginning the set on trumpet, Ståle Storløkken on synth, and Helge Sten on guitar, Jones moved towards the back of the stage, where he stayed for most of a set that went far longer than its allotted time— clearly everyone was having a blast.

From left: John Paul Jones, Arve Henriksen

Henriksen, in particular, seemed to be enjoying playing drums during a set that went from thunderous climax to thunderous climax; and who wouldn't? Henriksen may be no John Bonham, but he grooved harder than usual during the first extended improvisation, as he locked in, for brief moments, with Jones. Still, while Supersilent may be about free improvisation with rock energy and volume, Jones' participation did nothing to slow down the group's remarkable chemistry. It sounded, in fact, as if they'd been playing together for years, as Jones moved around the neck to create, deep, visceral and snaking lines beneath Sten's sonic manipulations, Storløkken textural excursions and otherworldly electronic melodism, and Henriksen—who moved from kit to trumpet to falsetto and harsher growl to pocket trumpet.

Again, Tord Knudsen's lighting complemented the performance perfectly; in many ways, Supersilent has always been about anonymity—its releases bearing identical designs other than the primary color, no personnel listings other than producer and engineer, where and when the album was recorded, and song titles that are nothing more than the number of the album and the track number. Even watching the group in performance, outside of some of the obvious sonics, there was a lot going on which could not be easily attributed to any one member of the group. Improvisations were collective, with no real delineated solos (even though everyone did, without direct intent, draw specific focus at different times throughout the set), and so Knudsen's lighting, rather than illuminating the group members, actually went even further to blend them into the visual backdrop; Henriksen, in fact, sometimes more visible on the rear projection than he ever was with direct lighting.

Helge Sten

All of which makes Supersilent a unique experience. But with the group's demonstration seminar earlier in the festival providing some perspective on what they do and how they do it, the group's evening performance with Jones, on the last day of Punkt 2010, was a definitive moment in the history of the festival. Jones' appearance at Punkt 2010 will undoubtedly place the festival on an entirely different radar; one that will only increase its international visibility and allow it to expand even further into areas previously unreachable.

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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