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Hedvig Mollestad, National Jazz Scene, Oslo review - watch out, there’s a storm about | reviews, news & interviews

Hedvig Mollestad, National Jazz Scene, Oslo review - watch out, there’s a storm about

Hedvig Mollestad, National Jazz Scene, Oslo review - watch out, there’s a storm about

Norway’s jazz individualist launches her new album ‘Tempest Revisited’ with a bang

Hedvig Mollestad smiles her way through the tempest at Oslo's National Jazz Scene© Per Ole Hagen

The opening moments don’t suggest what’s coming. A solo flute is followed by a few spoken phrases from a treated voice. What’s being said? It’s impossible to work it out. Is it a warning? An electric guitar’s strings are stroked with a cello bow. Then, other instruments enter the picture – shimmering electric piano, a trio of saxes, pitter-pat, raindrop percussion, throbbing bass guitar.

About five minutes in, a pause arrives after which hard-edged spiralling guitar tops a swirling musical vortex. The storm has arrived. A squall is in the air, and on the stage.

“Sun on a Dark Sky” is the opening cut on Norwegian jazz individualist Hedvig Mollestad’s new album Tempest Revisited. At the launch show it, naturally enough, began the set. All five tracks were played, in the sequence they’re issued. A short, impressionistic encore reprised a theme heard in one cut but this one-off concert was about the album. However, that’s 40-minutes long and the live rendering added another 25.

Space for pithy improvisation was integral

The first sign this wasn’t a straight run-through of Tempest Revisited came during the second piece, “Winds Approaching.” While biffing away at her electric piano, Marte Eberson gradually transformed her ensemble contribution into a solo which quickly became a call-response trade-off with Mollestad’s guitar. Piano notes spun out. The guitar answered with tightly controlled bursts of distortion.

Tempest Revisited features five interconnected pieces:Sun on a Dark Sky,” “Winds Approaching,” “Kittiwakes in Gusts,” “418 (Stairs in Storms)” and “High Hair.” A few segue into each other and themes reoccur (percussive interjections and riffs). Although the album seems to be a written-through work – the three wind players have charts – this was a band performance not a by-rote rendition. There was a lot of smiling as key points were hit. Space for pithy improvisation was integral. The more formal elements of what was recorded for the album version – mainly the close-to big-band wind arrangements (two of this show’s players replaced a pair heard on the album) – were more expansive, more forceful. The musicians were playing with and off each other. As Sun on a Dark Sky” picked up, the effect was akin to the Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth having a very loud conversation with three Sonny Rollins disciples. During quieter passages, there was also a Sonic Youth ambiance – a doubtless unintentional echo of their explorations into structured soundscapes.

Hedvig Mollestad is best known from Hedvig Mollestad Trio, an outfit teaming her heavy metal-aligned soloing and riffing with a power-packed bass and drum attack. Jazz in the John McLaughlin/Bitches Brew bag refracted through a rock-centric prism. Mollestad likes Rush as much as she does grunge titans The Melvins.

Last year, she issued the Ekhidna album, credited as a solo set. It was a sign more was going on than the trio. Heard alongside her on the album were a member of Elephant9 and a Mats Gustafsson associate – that seamless bridge again, between out-there rock and jazz. So it is too with the live Tempest Revisited. Drummer/percussionist Ivar Loe Bjørnstad hopped over from the Trio and bassist Trond Frønes has played with metal band Goat The Head and members of Motorspsycho. Sax player Mona Krogstad also plays with jazz outfit JUNO, whose music can touch on pop and rap. As well as these and Eberson, the live band is rounded-out by flute/sax payer Amalie Dahl and sax player Martin Myhre Olsen with the seven musicians in a crescent, with Mollestad on one side.

'Tempest Revisited' mixes the figurative and the literal

Like Ekhidna, Tempest Revisited was created in response to a commission. The first had come through the Vossajazz festival. The new album, showcased at Norway’s national jazz venue, initially came about after Mollestad’s home town Ålesund got in touch to see about celebrating 2018’s 20th-anniversary of the opening of the concert hall. It had opened in 1998 with a performance of Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim’s multi-dimensional score for a ballet version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Nordheim fused traditional orchestration with voice and electronics. Mollestad’s response was Tempest Revisited, a sideways acknowledgement of the Nordheim and Shakespeare sources which is more a tribute to Ålesund: apocryphally the Norwegian town with the most amount of rainfall each year. Sitting on a peninsular jutting out into the ocean, it’s flanked by fjords and surrounded by mountains. Micro-climates and constant meteorological change are the local flavours.

As a musical psycho-geographic examination of a facet of Ålesund, Tempest Revisited mixes the figurative and the literal. The town is mostly set on flatland, but a staircase leads up to an open platform from which its setting can be viewed from one of the surrounding peaks. The stair has the 418 steps referred to by the album’s “418 (Stairs in Storms).” Presumably, when a storm kicks off in Ålesund kittiwakes get in a flap as the wind begins gusting.

On album, all this adds up to an arresting high-concept musical fantasia. In this live iteration though, the dynamic Tempest Revisited is as forceful and unpredictable as a Norwegian coastal storm. There are moments of calm but sudden shifts into turbulence are never far. This memorable, standing-ovation show was a one-off. Pity. Hedvig Mollestad and her fellow sonic adventurers would floor any audience, anywhere with this take on Tempest Revisited.


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