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Punkt Festival 2010

John Kelman By

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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.

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