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Nils Petter Molvær: Switch

Karl Ackermann By

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From his first major recording date almost thirty years ago, Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær has been a unique innovator with a seemingly insatiable appetite for testing new waters. Beginning with Masquarelo's seminal ECM Records debut, Bande à Part (1985), Molvær joined with the already established bassist Arild Andersen and his long-time collaborator, drummer Jon Christensen. Along with Jon Balke on keyboards and saxophonist Tore Brunborg, the quintet represented a Nordic lineup whose individual members continue to make significant contributions to the global music scene.

Molvær's fascination with the manipulation of all aspects of phrasing, his incorporation of non-traditional rhythms and expanding the limits of the instrument have been extrapolated over time through experiments in electronics, club beats, chamber jazz, soundtracks, and less easily defined idioms. Molvær's current choice of title, Switch, is open to interpretation. The presence of pedal steel guitarist Geir Sundstøl has prompted some references to Switch as "Molvær-gone- country." It is not, as the instrument is not ubiquitous and only briefly adds that particular flavor to the collection.

The title track opens Switch and happens to be the piece where Sundstøl's pedal steel has the most countrified inflection. But rather than a rural intonation Sundstøl and Molvær create a darker atmoshere that is more reminiscent of guitarist (and now fellow Okeh label-mate) Bill Frisell's Ghost Town (Nonesuch, 2000). This ethereal trait is present to some degree throughout the collection but is particularly strong on the very brief "Intrusion I." "The Kit"—slotted between the previously mentioned tracks—ramps up the pace with drummer Erland Dahlen's thundering tribal beat and a more pronounced presence of electronics. "Bathroom" is complimentary with its march-like quality and painstaking structural attributes in the midst of a contrasting suggestion of sadness.

The spare "Quiet Corners" has Molvær barely rising above a whisper while Sundstøl—now on National resophonic guitar—adds a sitar-like quality from the unusual wood and metal body resonator guitar. "Intrusions VII," the second in a series of similarly titled but non-sequentially numbered pieces, has a melancholy beauty and features Molvær playing in the more open style he employed in Hamada (Sula Records, 2009). The gentle balladry of "Intrusion III" closes Switch with Molvær floating above the beat as if searching for some furtive emotion.

Since the release of Khmer (ECM, 1997), Molvær has been a most highly regarded artist throughout Europe while disproportionately under- recognized in the U.S. That is a loss for American jazz audiences. Molvær operates from both ends of an ever-changing spectrum; his minimal approach can be so exceptionally meticulous that it can play like stateliness. Conversely, in the midst of buzzing, popping electronics, he realizes moments of tranquil beauty. The artistry of his music is often intangible and therefore difficult to disseminate, yet experiencing Molvær is consistently like discovering and crossing new borders.

Track Listing: Switch; The Kit; Intrusion I; Quiet Corners; Strange Pillows; Intrusion VII; Bathroom; Intrusion VI; Somewhere Shady; Intrusion III.

Personnel: Nils Petter Molvær: trumpet, electronics, voice; Geir Sundstøl: pedal steel guitar, six string bass, National resophonic guitar; Morten Qvenild: hyper piano, programming and electronics; Erland Dahlen: drums, metal plate, log drum, steel drum, drum machine, blossom, bells, xylophone, electric guitar, baritone guitar; Jon Marius Aareskjold: additional programming.

Title: Switch | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Okeh

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