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Vossa Jazz 2016

Ian Patterson By

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A tour of North America and a support slot for John McLaughlin's Fourth Dimension at the EFG London Jazz Festival 2014 further raised Mollestad's international reputation. At the McLaughlin gig, in the formal setting of the Royal Festival Hall, Mollestad asked jokingly if the audience had its seatbelts buckled. The trio, sure enough, takes no prisoners.

With a new studio CD and a live recording due for release in May, this gig was something of a farewell to some of the material upon which Mollestad's trio has built its name these past five years. And with bassist Ellen Brekken unavailable, drummer Ivar Loe Bjornstad had a new rhythmic partner in Red Kite's Trond Frones, who did a wonderful job. "Laughing John" made a powerful opening statement, with fast bass lines, pounding drums and Mollestad's industrial riffing paving the way for the guitarist's searing improvisation.

Mollestad's crying, sometimes ecstasy-driven guitar lines certainly contained the blues -Jimi Hendrix-hued on blistering tunes like the foot-to-the-floor metal of "The New Judas," Black Sabbath-esque on the doomy rock of "For The Air"; on the latter, Mollestad drew a violin bow across her strings before launching the trio into alternatively fast-paced and then slow-grunge passages.

Occasionally, Mollestad stepped off the stage to rock out with the crowd; blasts of wah-wah and feedback punctuated her breathless runs, but there was space too for more overt lyricism on "Pity the Children"—in between the grungier segments.

There are few more thrilling guitarists regardless of genre than Mollestad, and few more raucously exciting trios in the amorphous territory where instrumental rock, metal and improvised music co-exist. Destined for bigger stages? Without a doubt.

Cortex

Norway boasts plenty of bands every bit as uncompromising as the Hedvig Mollestad Trio, yet whose roots are more overtly jazz-based. The quartet Cortex is one such group. Formed in 2007, albums such as Resection (Bolage, 2011), Göteborg (Gigafon, 2012) and Cortex: Live (Clean Feed Records, 2014) have established Cortex as one of the most technically proficient and visceral of contemporary jazz ensembles.

It wasn't accidental that cornet player Thomas Johansson evoked Don Cherry to saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts' Ornette Coleman, for the quartet's free-spirited avant- garde music owed much to that historic pair. Bassist Ola Hoyer and drummer Gard Nilssen's elastic polyrhythms were intense and thrilling to behold.

Grooving bass ostinatos, melodious unison lines, dissonant skronk and tumultuous drumming made for a potent cocktail, with little let-up in the intensity during the seventy-minute set. A Spanish tinge and the more codified language of bebop occasionally filtered through the prevailing free-jazz storm, creating a tension in the music between the chaotic and the controlled. For the audience, like as not for the musicians, it was an enthralling yet draining experience.

Jazz Mass

Sunday morning brought the faithful to Vangskyrkja, a thirteenth century church in the centre of Voss, for a jazz mass. The great stone cross on the south side of the church is said to have been raised in 1023 by King Olav Haraldson, in an effort to convert the pagans to Christianity. This morning, a thousand years later, the idea was to convert the Christians to jazz.

A striking edifice both inside and out, the unusual, wooden octagonal steeple rises above the stonework in a curious meeting of materials and periods. Inside, a quasi-leopard-print pattern adorns the wooden beams of the ceiling. The stone alter dates to medieval times and baroque and Renaissance styles co-exist in the church's details.

As bells rang out, the twenty-two piece choir rose to its feet and stood impassively as the peels sounded for a full minute. The cessation of the bells signalled the commencement of Duke Ellington's "Heaven," from the jazz great's Second Sacred Concert (Prestige, 1969), with vocalist Kor splendidly reprising the role of Alice Babs; empathetic support came from guitarist Kare Nytun, double bassist Arne Toivo Fjose and pianist Magnus Kloften.

Quartet and choir joined on a series of familiar psalms, rising to a celebratory rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In"—a gospel song shared by the churches of Christianity and jazz alike—and concluding the service with the traditional spiritual "Let My People Go," which, with its themes of oppression, bondage and exodus, struck a contemporary chord in these turbulent times.

Morten Qvenild

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