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Nils Petter Molvaer: Solid Ether

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Norwegian trumpet player Nils Petter Molvær captures himself in a swirling electronic nightmare of his own creation on Solid Ether (ECM). A stunning meltdown of classic jazz trumpet styles with modern techno, drum-and-bass and electronic music, Solid Ether continues and expands the stylish deviltry of Khamer, Molvær’s debut as a leader for ECM in 1998. Khamer claimed awards in Norway, Germany, and “Jazz Record of the Year” from “The L.A. Times.” This challenging, inventive follow-up does not disappoint.

Molvær performs on trumpet, piccolo trumpet, bass, percussion, electronics, synthesizers, and sound treatments. His professed influences – Miles, Don Cherry, Jon Hassell – are evident in his trumpet playing, when he aspires to sound “in my best moments, as a singer.” But he also deploys those same influences in the music he writes around his trumpet sound, in combination with the influence of modern constructionists such as Bill Laswell and Brian Eno who manage to fringe the edges of pop and non-pop music. In this respect, the traditionally crisp and icy sound of ECM Records serves him well.

Molvær strides into his solo trumpet introduction to the opening cut, “Dead Indeed,” in sharp, smart lines like Freddie Hubbard. After the song erupts into a techno-color maelstrom, with clanging robotic drums and squalling electronics, that same trumpet provides a cool, detached fulcrum to the piece.

“Ligotage” presents a brawling update of the single Molvær released in between his two albums. It casts Cherry’s “third world” trumpet style in an intense dub/jungle setting worthy of Sly & Robbie, ripe with wah-wah guitars and explosive samples and screeches from DJ Strangefruit, to create thoroughly original and modern music. It bleeds into “Trip,” where Molvær’s soft, feathery downward trumpet modulation and the sense of adventure in the accompanying undertow somehow evoke both echoes of Davis and new, exciting ideas.

“Merciful” continues Molvær’s series of collaborations with poet Sidsel Endresen, as she adorns his composition with Joni Mitchell-like lyrics and vocals, supported only with his piano; it is reprised for a quiet moment at the end of the set.

Molvær found inspiration for Solid Ether ’s title track, a jarring sonic landscape full of trumpet (almost a tribute to Hassell and Cherry in its long, flowing lines and unique colors), DJ scratching, hip-hop beats and dangerous sharp curves, in underground DJs the Basement Jaxx. “They have all these beats going on, stopping and starting all the time, and they use delays to weave them together,” he explains. “It’s an idea I like and have adapted.”

On Solid Ether, Molvær is joined by guitarist Eivind Aarset, bassist Auden Erlien, DJ Strangefruit (Paul Nyhus), and drummers Rune Arnesen and Per Lundvall (who played with Abba in what must have been another lifetime).

Track Listing: Dead Indeed, Vilderness 1, Kakonita, Merciful 1, Ligotage, Trip, Vilderness 2, Tragamar, Solid Ether, Merciful 2.

Title: Solid Ether | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: ECM Records

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