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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Latest from Norway

By Eyal Hareuveni

Three distinct Norwegian composer - guitarist Kim Myhr, tenor sax player Hanna Paulsberg and double bass player Ole Morten Vågan, released this year their most ambitious and best albums so far.

Kim Myhr / Quatuor Bozzini / Caroline Bergvall / Ingar Zach - pressing clouds passing crowds (Hubro Music, 2018) 


“The question of change is in the nature of clouds. The nature of clouds is in the nature of passing, hanging on until something breaks”.

Guitarist Kim Myhr was commissioned to compose pressing clouds passing crowds for the 2016 Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville in Quebec, Canada. Myhr was inspired by a meeting with French-Norwegian poet-visual artist Caroline Bergvall in 2015 and the music of American contemporary compose Robert Ashley (who passed away in 2014, known for his multidisciplinary, operatic work) and wanted to compose a slow-moving piece centered around a speaking voice.

Myhr composed the music before he received Bergvall’s text, just by imagining her delivery. She has written the text, based only on the general character of the music, as Myhr told her in their meeting. She described this poetic text as: “something suspended in air, personal yet universal, a sort of sensual confusion of the subjective and the objective”.

The poetic theme of fragile, slow transformation captures perfectly the sonic essence of pressing clouds passing crowds. Myhr, playing the 12-string acoustic guitar - with the Montreal-based string quartet Quatour Bozzini, fellow-Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach and the voice of Bergvall, trading her own text - created minimalist yet strongly lyrical and quite intense soundscapes. These delicate soundscapes bring to mind the work of innovative minimalist composers as Morton Feldman and Steve Reich.

But the lingering power of pressing clouds passing crowds lies in its suggestive, emotional intimacy and even sensual warmth. Myhr’s modest, dreamy harmonic language intensifies and engulfs wisely the dramatic delivery and the hypnotic phrasing of Bergvall. Bergavall’s own poetic images draws the listener deeper gently into her free-associative universe, linking the personal to the political and the universal, and offers a universe of constant-shifting states of mind. Zach clever percussive language on the grand casa narrows the the tonal distance between Bergavall’s voice, Myhr’s guitar and Quatour Bozzini strings. All is magically connected in fascinating layers of sounds and senses, discourse and narrative.

“Things are never equal to themselves. From one point to the next a cloud is always another cloud. A shape always leads another shape… We’d draw our best lessons from that. And wouldn’t be so violent, confused or fearful about our own and one another’s passing form, or pressing cumulative nature”.

Hanna Paulsberg Concept + Magnus Broo - Daughter of the Sun (Odin, 2018) **** 

Daughter of the Sun is described by tenor sax player Hanna Paulsberg’s label of as a passionate, warm answer to the chilly, emotionally detached school of Nordic sax players, mainly of the ECM school and on top of them local hero, Jan Garbarek. Not that Passborg’s music lacked passion or warmth before, but the colorful-seductive cover of Daughter of the Sun, as well as her recent, cheeky songwriting in the local GURLS trio, add to her musical persona hot, spicy colors.

The fourth album of Paulsberg Concept - with pianist Oscar Grönberg, double bass player Trygve Fiske and Atomic’s drummer Hans Hulbækmo - augments this tight unit by Swedish master trumpeter Magnus Broo, one of the founding members of Atomic and a musician generation older than the ones of the Concept. The album is dedicated to the Ancient Egyptian second female pharaoh Hatshepsut “and all other women who have had to fight harder for recognition because of their gender”. This album alters the Afro-American aesthetics of Paulsberg Concept towards sunny Africa, and especially the townships jazz of apartheid-era South Africa, with notable references to pianists Chris McGregor’s Blue Notes and Dollar Brand, aka Abdullah Ibrahim’s early bands.
Broo fits organically into the Paulsberg Concept vision and his personal sound, rich imagination and quiet yet charismatic presence deepens and expands the subtle interplay of the quartet. The lyrical, opening piece “Scent Of Soil” establishes the new course of the augmented Concept. It slowly builds its beautiful, spiritual theme and when Broo ‘outside’ solo blends with the brief, ‘inside’ melodic solo of Paulsberg, both already sound as the most natural musical match. This kind of joyful and open interplay continues on the freer “The Big Saxophone”, the most free jazz piece in the Concept repertoire, and on “Hemulen Tar Ferie”, titled after a character in the Swedish TV’s animated fairytale series Moomin. Grönberg’s playful “Serianna” cements the South-African connection with Grönberg own references to Dollar Brand rhythmic language and Broo solo that pays respects another South-African innovative musician, trumpeter Mongezi Feza. Paulsberg shines on the elegiac title-piece, where she patiently builds a powerful, emotional vibe, enjoying the support of Broo who encourages her to dare more. The last, brilliant “Bouncing With Flower Buds”, an obvious reference to the Bud Powell’s standard “Bouncing With Bud”, shoots the Concept to Atomic skies, with an urgent energy and engaging passion and groove . Broo and Paulsberg sound again as a musical match that was bound to happen.

Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Ole Morten Vågan - Happy Endlings (Odin, 2018) ****

The twentieth album of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (TJO, that hosted before Myhr as its composer, In the end his voice will be the sound of paper, with Jenny Hval, Hubro Music, 2016, and Paulsberg as a player) offers a schizophrenic experience. An apocalyptic-adventurous concept album yet a highly playful and joyful one. TJO teamed this time with double bass player Ole Morten Vågan, who has played in several TJO projects in the past and is known from his genre-bending, Frank Zappa-informed quintet, Motif. In a way, Happy Endlings, transforms Motif music to a bigger canvas and justifies Zappa insightful, even prophetic political observations.

Happy Endlings, according to Vågan, plays - literally - with the idea of Norwegian mythological battles, the cataclysmic ragnarök, or the towering darkness awaiting us around the corner, and the concept of the Endling, which we are experiencing throughout nature at this very moment and which gives us the extra sense of end time. The cover art of illustrator Flu Hartberg stresses that these Endlings may be humans, or that humankind might be the Endlings. “It’s obvious that most people are aware of the doom just ahead of us”, says Vågan. “But we seem totally unable to deal with the threat. Every time we do something good, we elect a tangerine psychopath the next day or someone decides to showcase their new Doomsday Machine.”

Fortunately, you don’t have to subscribe to the dark concept of Happy Endlings to enjoy the music of Vågan. This album often sounds as a party that ends all parties, or as Vågan’s label suggests, a thrill packed, roller-coaster ride but with a friendly King Kong. Until the end of times arrives you can enjoy the fine company of Swedish vocalist Sofia Jernberg (of Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra) and Atomic's reeds Fredrik Ljungkvist, as well as local heroes as Supersilent’s keyboards player Ståle Storløkken, Cortex’ drummer Gard Nilssen and Motif’s drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen, Paulsberg Concept’s pianist Grönberg, trumpeter Eivind Lønning and violinist Ola Kvernberg.

TJO under the guidance of Vågan acts as an hyperactive incarnation of Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, but equipped with an eccentric kind of Nordic sense of humor. This version of TJO is informed by György Ligeti’s aggressive musical response to WWII and inspired by the rhythmic drive Afro-American free jazz of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the orchestral projects of Carla Bley, with some sparks of the seventies prog-rock. These diverse, complex elements keep revolving in every composition, offering deeper and often ironic perspectives of this colorful musical feast. There are plenty of tasteful nuggets to bite on such epic, ecstatic compositions as “Me Tar Sand, You Jane”, “Disco Dreams” and “Slob Rock”, from the one-of-her-kind, wordless vocalizations of Jernberg, the celestial organ flights of Storløkken, the wise solos of Grönberg and the strong rhythmic basis of Vågan with drummers Nilssen and Johansen.

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