Veslefrekk: Veslefrekk

John Kelman By

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Before there was Supersilent—the renowned Norwegian noise improv group that was a seminal part of the flurry of creative Norwegian activity that, between 1997 and 1998, literally shook the world of improvised music and brought a number of artists, including Nils Petter Molvaer, Bugge Wesseltoft and Eivind Aarset, to far greater international acclaim—there was Veslefrekk ("Little Rude," in Norwegian). But none of these artists—as exceptional, daring and, ultimately, influential as they would come to be—were as extreme in their approaches to improvisation and the construction of hitherto unheard of sound worlds as Supersilent would become.

Today's Rediscovery looks back at Veslefrekk, the debut album from a trio of then-young musicians—trumpeter Arve Henriksen, keyboardist Ståle Storløkken and drummer Jarle Vespestad—who would morph into Supersilent and gain far greater attention with the addition of guitarist, producer and renegade soundscapist Helge Sten, but who would also go onto even further acclaim as either solo artists or members of groups that have become increasingly well-known in the two decades that have since passed.

While there are hints of what was to come in its first and, until the group reconvened a decade later for Valse Mysterioso (NORCD, 2004), only recording, there were plenty of trace elements to be found in a trio that combined freewheeling extemporizations with compositional constructs that would ultimately become anathema to Supersilent's "no rehearsal, no written music, no preparation" ethos. Henriksen was, after all, just 26, Storløkken 25 and Vespestad, at 28, the elder member of the trio, and so it's no surprise that these three musicians were wearing their influences more clearly on their sleeves.

Henriksen has since gone on to carve out a captivating solo career, most recently heard on The Nature of Connections (Rune Grammofon, 2014). Storløkken remains in-demand keyboardist who, in addition to a lengthy tenure in guitarist Terje Rypdal's Skywards Trio with drummer Paolo Vinaccia and significant role as musical director for projects like Motorpsycho's Trondhim Jazz Orchestra/Trondheimsolistene collaboration, The Death Defying Unicorn (Rune Grammofon, 2012), has grabbed some attention for Elephant9, his own keyboard power trio project that has, since the release of its 2008 Rune Grammofon debut, Dodovoodoo, gone from strength to strength. Vespestad, in addition to being a charter member in the muscular and genre-bending Farmers Market heard last on Slav to the Rhythm (Division, 2012), has brought possibly the quietest, gentlest approach possible to the work of pianist Tord Gustavsen, heard most recently on Extended Circle (ECM, 2014). But while Veslefrekk was not the first recording for these musicians—Vespestad, in particular, having collaborate with singer Silje Nergaard since 1990—this was, in many ways, where it really all began for everyone; a point of confluence and departure.

The music reflects everything from a love of Jon Hassell's Fourth World Music to the sound of Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul (in particular Storløkken's love of analog electronic keyboards). But there are also references to the Norwegian traditions that are at the foundation of so many of its musicians: marching bands and youth choirs. There's also more than a nod to the rubato approach that seems so well-suited to and innovated (or, at the very least, evolved) by the Norwegians; touches of the melancholy lyricism that would imbue so much of Henriksen's later work; rock-edged music that, with Henriksen's wah wah trumpet, Vepestad's equally muscular kit work and Storløkken's extreme textures, evokes memories of Miles Davis' more jagged electric work from the early-to-mid-'70s, but with an even freer approach that is all Veslefrekk; excursions into the outer reaches that suggest at least a passing acquaintance with musique concrète; and a processed drums combined with otherworldly synths and choral samples closer that simply suggests how, for this trio—and even at this early stage in its three members' careers—nothing was forbidden and anything possible.

Of course, what was possible for Veslefrekk was still not entirely known, as just four years later the group, augmented with Helge Sten and renamed Supersilent, would release 188 minutes of extraordinary improvisational extravagance with the equally bold move of a three-CD debut, 1-3 (Rune Grammofon, 1998). It was a critically acclaimed album that quickly set the group's modus operandi: the same relative anonymity as early Pink Floyd; titling all subsequent albums with nothing more than sequential numbering; and track titles that were similarly numbered sequentially and, consequently, evoked no preconceptions as to what the music would be.

It was all part of a methodology that would continue to evolve over the next 16 years, though Vespestad would ultimately leave Supersilent in 1998, being just too much in-demand and needing to make cuts somewhere. Henriksen has, with the exception of Supersilent and a handful of other projects largely built around the Punkt Festival axis, cut back as well; but in his case with an eye on focusing more exclusively on his own career. Storløkken, on the other hand, seems to have gone the other route, and is seen or heard popping up, it would seem, just about everywhere.

But in late 1993, these three graduates of the renowned Trondheim Musikkonservatorium convened at the city's Innspilt i Nidaros Studio to record Veslefrekk: a harbinger of many more very, very good things to come and, therefore, an album absolutely rife for Rediscovery.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you know this record, and if so, how do you feel about it?

[Note: You can read the genesis of this Rediscovery column here.]


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