by Ian Mann
November 25, 2020
A fascinating musical tapestry that included some excellent playing from some of the best musicians on the Norwegian music scene, An ambitious overall work that touched a lot of musical bases.
Hedvig Mollestad and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra: ‘Maternity Beat’
Performance at Molde Jazz Festival, Norway, 18/07/2020
Streamed as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, 19/11/2020
Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen (born Alesund, 1938) is a Norwegian guitarist and composer who has fronted her own jazz power trio for the best part of a decade, releasing a total of six albums in this format.
Strongly influenced by 1970s hard rock the Hedvig Mollestad Trio (often referred two as HM3) also features bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjornstad. The trio’s latest release, “Smells Funny”, was released in 2019 on the Rune Grammofon label.
In recent years Mollestad has begun to write for other projects and released her first album under her sole name in June 2020. The music on “Ekhidna” was commissioned by Norway’s Vossajazz Festival and first premièred in 2018.
Her latest commissioned work is “Maternity Beat”, a multi-part suite that was performed for the first time in the Bjørnsonhuset venue at Molde Jazz Festival in July 2020. This large scale work features Mollestad alongside the members of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. The title reflects Mollestad’s experiences as a mother – the guitarist continued to perform gigs while heavily pregnant. It is not her first collaboration with the TJO. Mollestad appeared on the Orchestra’s 2011 album “Migrations”, which featured trombonist Oyvind Brakke as the guest soloist.
Others with whom Mollestad has worked include vocalists Hilda Marie Kjersem and Jarle Bernhoft, saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, keyboard player Jon Balke and fellow guitarist Jon Eberson. She has also appeared with the bands The Cumshots and El Doom & The Born Electric.
What is most remarkable about this concert, which was filmed and recorded during this Covid summer, is that there is actually a live audience present, their presence visibly encouraging the musicians and turning the performance into more of an EVENT. After seeing so many livestreams featuring musicians playing in empty venues it’s a rare treat to actually hear the reaction of a real crowd.
The musical performance is also accompanied by a light show, with images of individual band members sometimes projected onto the backdrop, alongside more abstract images and patterns.
For this performance the ensemble lined up as follows;
Vocals: Mai Elise Solberg, Ingebjørg Loe Bjørnstad
Flute: Trine Knutsen
Violin: Adrian Løseth Waade
Trumpet: Susana Santos Silva
Tenor Sax: Petter Kraft
Alto, soprano, baritone saxes: Martin Myhre Olsen
Percussion: Ingvald Andre Vassbø
Double bass: Georgia Wartel Collins
Keys: Ståle Storløkken
Drums: Torstein Lofthus
Guitar: Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen
The suite blended elements of jazz, rock and classical music in an ambitious sonic tapestry that saw the whole work performed as a single entity, albeit demarcated into several distinct movements.
Things began in atmospheric fashion with the grainy sounds of Mollestad’s bowed guitar and Wartel Collins’ arco bass. Twin vocalists Solberg and Loe Bjornstad joined to add English language incantations, with further words spoken in Norwegian.
This ‘overture’ was followed by a flute, brass and reeds chorale, accompanied by arco bass, before a more orthodox contemporary big band sound began to emerge, driven by Mollesad’s guitar but with Myhre Olson the featured soloist on soprano sax. Myhre Olson was one of a number of musicians in the band with whose playing I was previously familiar, in this instance from his work with the band Wako.
Movement three saw the two singers deploying extended vocal techniques to replicate the sounds of baby and child noises, tying the music into the “Maternity” concept. Plucked double bass and woozy keyboards were added to the equation before a more conventional big band sound eventually began to emerge once more. Mollestad then took her first real solo, her playing displaying a strong rock influence and featuring extensive use of the tremolo arm. The guitarist is a self confessed admirer of John McLaughlin and the spirits of 70s fusion and of prog rock were discernible throughout much of this performance.
Mollestad’s solo drew the first spontaneous applause of the night, before a neatly constructed solo drum passage from Lofthus introduced the next movement. Rapid unison lines from violin, flute and soprano sax eventually led to a full on violin solo from the impressive Waade. The combination of guitar and violin again evoked memories of McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
The fifth movement revealed both classical and folk influences at the start, followed by the semi spoken lyrics “look for swing, look for flow, look for peace, then take it away”. And “take it away” was exactly what Kraft did with a powerful and expansive tenor sax solo, backed by soaring wordless vocals that helped to give the music a celebratory feel.
The next passage saw the return of the ‘child voices’, this time in conjunction with Santos Silva’s vocalised muted trumpet. An unaccompanied trumpet passage then formed a link to the next part as Mollestad set up a heavy, Zeppelin style guitar riff, her ensuing solo borne aloft by Storlokken’s swirling Hammond and the hard driving rock rhythms laid down by drummer Lofthus and percussionist Vassbo. Storlokken, one of the giants of contemporary Norwegian music, then took over from the leader, his solo featuring a mix of organ and synth sounds.
Wartel Collins’ unaccompanied double bass introduced the next movement, subsequently joined by the semi-spoken incantations of the twin vocalists, culminating in the phrase “like the mother I will let her grow into her shape”. Following this Mollestad’s guitar floated in Floyd like serenity over a quasi-orchestral backdrop of voices and instruments.
An unexpectedly reflective guitar and organ dialogue introduced the final section, the comparative calm suddenly interrupted as Mollestad set up a metallic riff above which voices, trumpet and reeds were invited to soar, with the drums and percussion later taking on the task of driving the music forward. The lights flashed in time with the music in a Jaga Jazzist kind of way as Mollestad’s guitar sound became increasingly distorted and Vassbo delivered an all action display amidst his array of percussive devices.
It was a thrilling, high energy finale and formed part of an ambitious overall work that touched a lot of musical bases. Mollestad’s guitar was always at the heart of the performance, but without being overly dominant, and all of the other players impressed with their various solos and cameos.
With the spectre of prog rock never far away there were inevitable longueurs and occasional moments when the music threatened to lapse into pretentiousness. But after years of honing the sound of her trio is wholly admirable that Mollestad should now be flexing her musical muscles by taking on more ambitious, more compositionally focussed projects. In the main this was a fascinating musical tapestry that included some excellent playing from some of the best musicians on the Norwegian music scene, with the positives far outweighing any negatives.
At the close Mollestad and her colleagues twice returned to the stage to acknowledge the cheers of an ecstatic crowd. It was so refreshing to see this, most Festival streams have concluded with a smattering of applause from the crew at best, and total silence at worst, regardless of the quality of the music or the performance. It was genuinely refreshing to hear a live audience. Let’s hope that it’s a sound that we get used to hearing again as soon as possible.
Live sound: Ketil Nicolaysen
Video design: Joffe Myrvold
Regi: Lars Nikolay Riksheim
Camera: Ben Fylling and Johannes Mork
Light design: Ingrid Skanke Høsøien