NattJazz@Bergen – Sidsel Endresen, Building Instrument and the titan Freddie Wadling
Sidsel Endresen is one of those people who really makes critics work for their money – it’s very difficult to describe what she does if you haven’t been in the room with her. She’s been working with her voice as an instrument for more than 30 years and what emerges is dark and often unsettling, guttural and animalistic, with sudden breaks for melody. Most acts would use something straightforward to temper this extraordinary vocal, but here she has employed Stian Westerhus, who wrenches sounds and echoes from his guitar that sound much larger than the sum of their parts. There are thumps and percussive slaps, sudden movements and aggressive taunts – at one stage, he pulls out a lonely mechanical echo that sounds like the bell on a sinking ship far out to sea. It’s a haunting experience, primal and challenging, and leaves a long echo in your head and your heart.
From stark minimalism we plunge into the bombast of Al Di Meola and the World Sinfonia. Di Meola has worked with the likes of Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, so there is no doubt that he is a guitarist of astonishing ability (and he has a trophy room of awards and about six million records sold worldwide to add to the argument). At NattJazz he ripped through tracks from throughout his career, with Kevin Sediki giving him a blistering run for his money on guitar, while Fausto Beccalossi brought some beautiful accordion playing and the odd line of vocal to proceedings, while Peter Kaslas kept it tight on drums.
This is music for those who like their compositions to come in sheer sheets of music, notes tumbling upon notes, all played breathlessly with barely a beat going unaccompanied. Di Meola plays his guitar as if the board is on fire and he’s trying to put it out fret by fret, moving through various effects while running between verses; one minute it’s pure acoustic, the next it has an edge of distortion, and then it comes across all synthy. At time it feels a little kitsch, and with all these notes there’s very little room for Peter Kaslas to construct much sense of groove, other than the rapid Latin rhythms being chopped out by di Meola and Sediki. It’s relentless and very flash indeed; no subtle movements here, thank you very much.
Another virtuoso tearing through the chords was Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan. This was a tour de force performance, with Hamasyan playing with such confidence and at such rattling speeds, it was difficult to keep up. The sheer number of ideas he throws at the compositions is astonishing and the technical demands that he places on himself are scarcely believable. There are beautiful melodies at play, and Hamasyan builds wave after wave of notes over them, displaying the full prowess of his classically informed playing. In a festival setting where there is so much to take in, this kind of set can be exhausting, but there is no doubt that Hamasyan, despite his young age, is one of the most technically accomplished pianists in jazz today.
At some stage on this night, somebody had to slow the pulse down from rocketship, and so it was with The Source. This free jazz Norwegian ensemble have a healthy dose of the US in their sound, matched with the austere soundscapes that are something of a hallmark for Scandinavian music. It’s a slightly unusual set up with Trygve Seim on saxophone, Øyvind Brekke on trombone, Mats Eilertsen on bass and Per Oddvar Johansen on drums, which means there are no rich chordal elements to unify the instruments and build some bridges. Instead, the band sketch out grooves and rhythms that the horns build upon with exciting stabs outwards, flashes of colour and melody. This music demands a little more concentration, but there is a rich seam of musicality to reward those who are willing to take the time. At no point did the band completely lock together and hitch a ride on a straight-up groove; perhaps one full-on blast would have given the set a bit more impetuous and drama. But there was still plenty of fascinating music making and a little swaggery groove to make this one of the better sets of the night. (You can find out what the band are like for yourself on June 5th, when the play the National Concert Hall as part of the ECM Perspectives night. For more information click here.)
Building Instrument are at the younger end of the scale in European jazz, and like many of the younger bands, it’s a pleasure to discover their creativity and cheerfully aggressive attitude to music. The trio, Mari Kvien Brunvoll on vocal, Åsmund Weltzien on keys and Øyvind Hell-Lunde on drums, build brilliantly colourful pieces, with texture and drama, and plenty of soundtrack elements. They are not afraid to send it straight ahead with funky little grooves that quickly set heads nodding, and don’t mind importing a cover to make things seem that little bit more oddball – Brunvoll does a gorgeous job of showing an elegant version of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights who’s boss. It’s exciting to watch, very accessible and highly emotive – there was more than one or two tears shed in the crowd when the band let things get a little darker and more reflective, and began constructed songs with an ear to delicacy and poignancy. This is definitely a band to seek out if the opportunity presents itself.
I felt a bit foolish stumbling into a Freddie Wadling concert and not having a clue who he is – the man is a giant, in girth and in power. From his seat at centre stage, with his songbook splayed on his lap, he directs operations with the authority and recklessness that comes with more than three decades of playing music, from punk and ballads to opera and experimental rock. Wadling has a voice that could disturb a mountain, with a bluesy, weary snarl that puts him in the same company as Tom Waits and Nick Cave. His band, with Sebastian Öberg on cello, Christian Olsson on guitar and drums, and Per “Ruskträsk” Johansson on saxophone, bring a really down and dirty bluesy swagger to their tracks, ripping the notes up out of the ground and flinging them at the crowd; this is music with a heart of darkness, red in tooth and claw. And then, as an encore, Wadling and co turn out a cover version of sublime, regret-filled poignancy that could make a grown man weep – who knew My Funny Valentine could be built with such dark materials?