Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham UK
For the second time in three days I was standing throughout a jazz gig. Is this the future, are my 57-year-old knees going to have to go with this trend even as they grow more calcified? I expect no sympathy. It’s sympathy for the bands that’s more deserving.
Both trio VD at the Rainbow on Wednesday and Nils Petter Molvaer at the Hare & Hounds on Friday are making music that brings jazz sophistication to a style and ethos, a power and attitude, that is much closer to other alternative kinds of music: alternative rock, alternative drum ‘n’ bass, alternative death metal, alternative industro-funk… hell I don’t know what it is, but it sure ain’t mainstream, so it needs that alternative pre-fix.
It’s also very cool. And it deserves a cool audience. What the lights from the visuals that played on the wall behind trumpeter Molvaer, guitarist Stian Westerhus and drummer Auden Kleive should have picked up as it streamed across the assembled and closely packed (standing) heads was luxuriant, young locks, the faces beneath them bright and beautiful, the bodies beneath those lithe and lissome. What the light actually bounced off was a bunch of balding heads, the faces grizzled and grey-stubbled, the bodies paunched and creaky (with apologies to the few who proved the exception).
There is a partly serious point here. While trio VD are making music that exactly matches their ages, their backgrounds, their interests, there is a little snag in my mind when it comes to Molvaer (turning 50 this year) that the louder, grungier nature of this latest incarnation of his music is a more self-conscious artistic decision, and while part of him might wish it would attract the younger, chic crowd, another part of him must reluctantly reconcile itself to the fact that it is the jazz audience that will remain loyal to him. The question arises that perhaps he is leading us down a road that both he and we might regret in years to come, a road whose Cul de Sac sign might have been hidden in the bushes.
The music the three musicians produced was certainly strongly visceral, even physical. As Kleive’s bass pedal beat against the vellum of his bass drum, so sternums all over the room felt its push; as Westerhus thumbed vigorously at the lower strings of his baritone guitar, so our stomach muscles shuddered at his touch. Meanwhile Molvaer switched between getting that unmistakeable sound from his trumpet, both fragile and elastic, and singing into its clip mic to send cries and exhortations chorusing through his effects unit and laptop.
The music rose to some impressive climaxes of intensity, and fell back to moments of great delicacy. Westerhus provided variety with an extensive bowed electric guitar passage, and Kleive did some impressive things with finger tapping a small cymbal held to his chest. Molvaer’s expertise is clearly heard but it’s often difficult to appreciate fully how he is making the sounds he makes.
I think they may have played some of the music from his latest album, Hamada, but then again they might not; it could have been predominantly improvised afresh, though I suspect it is more organised than is apparent. Whatever, it was striking and, for the most part, totally involving to stand through, though less impressive in the memory.
I read on Stian Westerhus’s website that he grew up listening to Slayer; I suspect Nils Petter Molvaer grew up listening to Miles. Interesting times we are living in, both for our ears and our knees.
Categories: Live review