Gig review: Nils Petter Molvaer

Nils Petter Molvaer at the Hare & Hounds (Picture: Russ Escritt)

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

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6 replies

  1. Yes it seems that the audience that discovered Nils Petter Molvaer music some 20 years ago have remained faithful to him; as you comment, they certainly made up the larger part of the audience on Friday. But Trio VD have built up a following in a younger crowd and they were much in evidence last Wednesday. There were also of course some super-hip oldies.

    • Hmmm… My reading of the trio VD crowd was a little different. The young audience members were predominantly, I would say, the Cobweb/Conservatoire crowd of jazz fans and their friends, whereas the over 35s – and they were by no means in the minority – did cross-over into the non-jazz audience more substantially. Which tends to confirm my suspicions that people who like jazz will follow elements of that music into new and strange stylistic territories, whereas the young non-jazz audience is reluctant to journey to a country that might still just have a little bit of jazz in its name and make-up, no matter how keenly the jazz musicians try to make them feel welcome.

  2. the scandinavians do seem to have a certain attraction to the more visceral end of rock music. I remember going to see the cardigans when they wanted to be black sabbath. Nils is more influenced by agharta and pangea so i am sticking with him

  3. I agree that many of the younger people at Trio Vd were students or graduates of the jazz course, but there were others!! I also agree that survivors of the 60s and 70s are still often the most adventurous listeners around. It was interesting that one of the bar staff was heard to say of Trio VD that they were like a rather weird version of Hot Chilli Peppers, and I take that to mean he was enjoying it! We can get through to the young non-jazz audience.

  4. Peter, I thought your review perceptive, and the comments also feed into the picture of our night. I went along knowing what roughly to expect (Hamada stretched by improv with the replaced guitarist doing his bowing thing), and it was exactly that. It did also have much of the electric Miles spirit about it, a medley/suite using the coded phrases for changing stages of the music, etc. That still modern sounding music from Miles is 40 years old, and some of the atmospheric passages could have come from same era ECM albums on my shelves. I want to stand on the side for cheerleading him being innovative for the rest of his life. There’s enough people playing jazz in 40 to 80 year old styles out there.


  1. Birmingham Jazz » Blog Archive » Thoughts on Nils Petter Molvaer and the Rest of the Week

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