Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

April 03, 2024


The album draws several strands of Mulelid’s musical personality together and despite the diversity of the individual tracks the album still coheres superbly as a whole

Kjetil Mulelid


(Odin Records ODINCD9589)

Kjetil Mulelid – piano, Wurlitzer, Rhodes, synths, Andreas Winther – drums, Bardur Reinert-Poulsen – electric and acoustic bass, Lars Horntveth – pedal steel guitar


Martin Myhre Olsen – tenor sax (1) soprano sax (3)
Selma French violin (1)
Arve Henriksen – trumpet & effects (1)
Trygve Seim – tenor sax (2,5)
Mathias Eick – trumpet (2)
Signe Emmeluth – alto sax (5)
Sasha Berliner – vibraphone (6)
Lyder Øvreås Røed – trumpet (7)

The Norwegian pianist and composer Kjetil Mulelid has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages for more than a decade. He first came to my attention in 2013 as part of the Nordic trio Lauv (the group name is the Norwegian for “Leaf”), who released the highly promising EP “De Som Er Eldre Enn Voksne” in that year, the title translating as “Those Who Are Older Than Adults”.  My review of the EP can be read here.

The following year I enjoyed seeing Mulelid perform live at the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when he was one of the star soloists at the annual Trondheim Jazz Exchange event, which sees students from the Jazz courses at the Birmingham and Trondheim Conservatoires combining to make music together and presenting the results to the jazz going public. Mulelid was one of the outstanding performers at that event and I justifiably tipped him as a musician to look out for in the years ahead. It’s particularly satisfying to see him fulfilling that promise.

Now in his early thirties Mulelid is a typical jazz musician of today, involved in a variety of genre defying projects embracing a broad range of musical influences. Lauv is no more but Mulelid leads his own piano trio,  forms half of the duo Kjemilie with vocalist Emilie Vasseljen Storaas and is part of Fieldfare, a song based, more pop orientated outfit featuring vocalist Siril Malmedal   Hauge,  drummer Andreas Skar Winther and former Lauv bassist  Bardur Reinert Poulsen. Mulelid and Hauge have also recorded as a duo, releasing the album “Blues and Bells” in 2023. Review here;

Mulelid’s trio with Winther at the drums and Bjorn Marius Hegge on double bass has released a series of acclaimed albums on the Rune Grammofon label commencing with “Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House” (2018), followed by “What You Thought Was Home” (2019) and “Who Do You Love The Most” (2022). All have been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann as has Mulelid’s exceptionally beautiful solo piano disc, simply titled “Piano” (also Rune Grammofon), which was largely written during lockdown and released in 2021.  Also reviewed elsewhere on this site is a solo piano livestream performed by Mulelid in Norway in 2021 for the Reworks Festival in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Mulelid and Poulsen are also members of the instrumental quartet Wako, a group that also includes saxophonist Martin Myhre Olsen (who appeared at the Trondheim Jazz Exchange event in 2012) and drummer Simon Olderskog Albertsen.  Initially Wako appeared to be primarily Olsen’s project and in the beginning he wrote all of the material for the group. However Wako’s recent repertoire has also begun to include Mulelid’s compositions. The group has released a total of five albums and has also collaborated with classical players from the ranks of the Oslo Strings.

Mulelid also collaborates with Olsen as part of the saxophonist’s MMO Ensemble, a jazz/classical quartet that also features Hauge and cellist Kaja Fjellberg Pettersen and which is inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Mulelid, Olsen and Hauge have also been part of the Norwegian sextet Wild Things Run Fast, a tribute to the music of Joni Mitchell.

After several years of email correspondence I finally got to meet Kjetil and the other members of Wako in person when the quartet played a live show for Clun Valley Jazz in Bishop’s Castle in February 2024. I was a performance that I attended as a paying customer so no review appears on these pages. However it was a hugely enjoyable show and it was great to be able to talk with the band members, all of whom spoke excellent English. Kjetil was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of what was then his forthcoming album, “Agoja” having been officially released on March 23rd 2024.

“Agoja” represents something of a departure for Mulelid and represents his first release for Odin Records following a lengthy tenure with Rune Grammofon. It also marks a move away from the strict piano trio format. Although the album remains centred around the triad of Mulelid, his long serving drummer Andreas Winther and Lauv / Wako bassist Bardur Reinert Poulsen almost every track includes a contribution from at least one guest musician, thus extending the range of sounds available to Mulelid, the composer. The new recording also sees Mulelid deploying electric keyboards for the first time, increasing the range of colours and textures still further.

The illustrious guest list includes the pianist’s Wako colleague Martin Myhre Olsen in addition to such Norwegian jazz royalty as trumpeters Arve Henriksen and Mathias Eick, saxophonist Trygve Seim and Jaga Jazzist’s Lars Horntveth, who adds pedal steel guitar to several pieces and also acts as Mulelid’s co-producer.

Mulelid says of the circumstances behind the recording of the new album;
“For a while, I’ve had a wish to step into the studio and create an album under my own name, where I can do exactly what I want without worrying about the end result and the musical expression the music should convey, In 2022, I had the plan as ready as it gets and asked many of my good friends and favourite musicians if they wanted to be part of this unfiltered journey. I booked the studio not knowing all the details, but in the subsequent days, a musical world took shape, becoming clearer with each recorded stanza. The result was on its way to becoming a melancholic reflection of life, mixed with a playful tribute to my upcoming next generation – parallel to the album process, I became a father for the first time. “Agoja” was the first approximate word I heard my son say, and I have therefore chosen to name the album just that.”

It’s probably fair to say that due to the involvement of the additional musicians “Agoja” sounds more like a Wako album than the work of Mulelid’s regular trio. Album opener “Alone” combines wispy, folk like melodies with a gently pulsing groove while the leader’s piano and keyboards are augmented by the sounds of Olsen’s tenor sax, French’s violin and Henriksen’s trumpet and effects. French and Henriksen help to bring a mysterious,  ethereal quality to the music as the composition negotiates a beguiling series of twists and turns, imparting the music with a pronounced cinematic quality. The music is rich in terms of colour and texture with Henriksen bringing a vocalised element to the sound – and did I detect the shimmer of Horntveth’s pedal steel in there too?

Named for Mulelid’s young son “Song for Eliah” introduces the talents of Seim on tenor sax and Eick on trumpet. Apparently the latter was a late addition to the line up, having been called up by Seim as the saxophonist was on his way to the studio. Seim and Eick are regular collaborators and they combine superbly here, working effectively as a team in addition to delivering stately individual statements. Each is well served by a typically melodic but multi-faceted Mulelid composition, with Horntveth’s pedal steel again adding to the layers of colour and texture.

“Heroes” brings a new combination of instruments with Olsen featuring on soprano sax. The piece commences with the sound of unaccompanied piano as Mulelid sketches the melody, subsequently joined by double bass, drums and pedal steel. The composer takes the first solo at the piano, followed by the impressive Poulsen on double bass as Mulelid also doubles on electric keyboards. Poulsen’s feature is followed by an incisive soprano sax solo from Olsen, who probes deeply above a roiling rhythm section before calm is eventually restored.

The melancholy lyricism of the solo piano piece “Thousands Of Lost Stories” is followed by “A Prayer For Peace”  a stirring rubato ballad that also features the grainy sounds of bowed bass and the combined saxophone ululations of Seim on tenor and Emmeluth on alto. As the playing becomes more impassioned there’s an incantatory quality about the music, with the of range emotions encompassing both righteous anger and a resigned sadness. One suspects that both of these pieces represent Mulelid’s reactions to current world events.

The charming “Waiting Song” teams the core trio and Horntveth with the American vibraphonist Sasha Berliner, who adds her own shimmering luminosity to the keening of Horntveth’s pedal steel and Mulelid’s adventurous electric piano soloing.

“Chapter, Ø “introduces a new instrumental voice in the form of trumpeter Lyder Øvreås Røed, who combines effectively with Mulelid on a stunning trumpet and piano duet that combines astonishing instrumental technique with an austere beauty and considerable emotional depth.

The album concludes with “Kingdom, Slowly Disappearing”, a richly atmospheric piece centred around a hypnotic groove featuring the sounds of brushed drums and dampened piano strings. This acts as the fulcrum for the swirling, other worldly instrumental textures generated by a combination of electric keyboards and the ethereal whine of Horntveth’s pedal steel.

Writing in Jazzwise magazine Mike Flynn expressed the opinion that with “Agoja” Mulelid has “created a modern Nordic masterpiece” and it’s hard to disagree with him. The album draws several strands of Mulelid’s musical personality together and despite the diversity of the individual tracks the album still coheres superbly as a whole. It’s clearly the work of a unified vision and Mulelid is well served by all the musicians concerned – there are some terrific individual performances here but all are delivered in the service of the music.

Horntveth also plays a huge role in the success of the album. His subtle use of post production techniques and his attention to small sonic details, as acknowledged by Mulelid in the album credits, adds much to the music in terms of colour and texture and also contributes to the record’s overall mood of mystery and other worldliness. It’s very much Mulelid’s record, but the spirit of Horntveth and of Jaga Jazzist is also present in its DNA.

“Agoja” is one of those albums that reveals fresh depths on each repeat listening, a characteristic that also applies to each individual track. It’s less about Mulelid the pianist, there are few conventional piano solos, and more about Mulelid as a composer and overall musical visionary.

I love his trio and solo piano work, but this new album is something else again and it also opens up a myriad of new musical possibilities for Mulelid to explore.


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