25 October, 6pm.
Nils Petter Molvær’s mournful trumpet cry has been echoing across the windswept Norwegian tundras for the last three decades – his haunting tone a cornerstone of this small country’s mesmerising music making. Now in his mid-fifties Molvær has exerted a huge influence on the Scandinavian, and indeed, global progressive music scene – and yet, like some giant glacier, moving slowly but steadily forward, the sheer weight of his influence is subtle, hidden beneath a calm exterior.
Much like fellow countryman Bugge Wesseltoft’s epoch defining New Conception of Jazz album, Molvær’s equally seismic 1997 release, Khmer, provided a watershed moment for Norwegian jazz by matching his spaciously burnished trumpet to a bristling industrial soundbed of distorted drum’n’bass beats, dancefloor-friendly dub and expansive cinematic textures. So rich were the possibilities of his alchemic mix of the digital and the organic that six subsequent albums saw incremental developments of his soundworld; his skills as a producer also blossoming to create sumptuously immersive recordings. It’s perhaps easy to associate Molvær’s spacious themes with the piercing qualities of Miles Davis at the height of his electric period – his laser guided phrases as much playing the spaces between the notes as the notes themselves. A more pertinent influence of his sound-world is the work of Tennessee-born trumpeter John Hassell, who first began fusing electronica, Indian ragas and ambient music in the early 1980s.
Yet for all of Molvær’s future-jazz inclinations, his primary instincts are borne out of his jazz foundations that early in his career saw him work with some Norway’s leading musicians including bass giant Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen in the pioneering ensemble Masqualero. So while he may eschew the traditional sound of modern jazz, his improviser’s instinct for restlessly looking for the next step forward remains at the heart of his music. It’s most certainly the case for his latest album Buoyancy on Sony’s OKeh label. Molvær’s love affair with electronics took a left turn some ten years ago, as he began to embrace the deep folk roots that underpin much Norwegian music, while he also turned up the heat with super-charged guitar playing – moving on from working with his longtime friend and collaborator Eivind Aarset to explore fearless new vistas with axe-and-effects firebrand Stian Westerhus on the rocked-out LP Baboon Moon. Yet it’s the astonishing pedal-steel guitarist Geir Sundstøl that lights up Buoyancy, with an array of spine-tingling swells that ring out in a form of breathtaking Nordic Americana, his shimmering chords hanging in the air like sonic Northern Lights. It’s a world Sundstøl explores even further on his own stunning new album, Langen Ro, on Hubro Records.
All this makes Nils Petter Molvær’s appearance at Ronnie Scott’s on 25 October, along with Sundstøl on guitar, Jo Berger Myhre on bass and Erland Dahlen on drums, all the more unmissable. Not only will he present the latest incarnation of his continually evolving music – but also the next generation of Norwegian sonic visionaries – who aren’t just following in his footsteps, but walking with him side-by-side.