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Kjetil Mulelid Trio

Not Nearly Enough To Buy a House


by Ian Mann

January 04, 2018


Mulelid has carved out a distinctive niche for himself, neatly straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation and avoiding the clichés of both American and Scandinavian jazz.

Kjetil Mulelid Trio

“Not Nearly Enough To Buy a House”

(Rune Grammofon RCD 2196)

This album was forwarded to me by the Norwegian pianist Kjetil Andre Mulelid who 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, born in 1991, is now a full time professional musician,  currently based in Copenhagen. Like many of his British contemporaries he is involved in a number of simultaneous projects. Lauv is no more but Mulelid leads his own piano trio (as featured here), forms half of the duo Kjemilie with vocalist Emilie Vasseljen Storaas and is part of the group Fieldfare, a song based, more pop orientated outfit featuring vocalist Siril Maldemal Hauge, drummer Andreas Winther and former Lauv bassist  Bardur Reinert Poulsen.

Mulelid and Poulsen are also members of the instrumental quartet Wako, a group that also includes alto saxophonist Martin Myhre Olsen (who appeared at the Trondheim Jazz Exchange event in 2012) and drummer Simon Olderskog Albertsen. Their début album, 2015’s “The Good Story” was very well received by the Norwegian jazz media.

Wako appears to be primarily Olsen’s project. The saxophonist wrote all the compositions and arrangements for the group’s second album “Modes for All Eternity” (2017),  an ambitious but largely successful collaboration between the Wako quartet and three members of Oslo Strings, violinist Kaja Constance Rogers,  violist Isa Caroline Holmesland and cellist Kaja Fjellberg Pettersen.  My review of that album can be read here;

Considered to be something of a rising star in his native land Mulelid’s piano trio have been signed to the prestigious Norwegian label Rune Grammofon for the release of their début album “Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House”. They are the third piano trio to feature on the label, following in the footsteps of In The Country and the Espen Eriksen Trio, yet they sound very different to both those bands.

Mulelid is joined by Bjorn Marius Hegge on double bass and Andreas Skar Winther at the drums, two busy, in demand musicians who play in a range of different contexts with a variety of other bands. Winther is also a member of Fieldfare while Hegge has previously featured on the Jazzmann web pages following an appearance at the Trondheim Jazz Exchange event at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as recently as 2016.

The Mulelid Trio’s work strikes a fine balance between composition and improvisation and the nine tracks that comprise “Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House” feature eight compositions by the leader plus one free improvisation credited to all three members of the group.

The brief “Entrance” begins with the sound of double bass and brushed drums before Mulelid arrives to deliver a snippet of piano melody that manages to be both sombre and anthemic, but ultimately uplifting. It all lasts little more than a minute and a half and, as other reviewers have noted, it almost sounds like the closing stages of a longer performance. It certainly makes for an interesting, if unorthodox, start with Mulelid and his colleagues quickly seizing the listener’s attention.

In terms of duration “Fly, Fly” is more substantial, developing slowly and organically via Mulelid’s elegant piano chording with Hegge’s bass providing the anchor as Winther adds succinct, finely detailed drum commentary. There’s an abrupt change of mood mid tune with a brief passage of unaccompanied piano before the trio stretch out more freely, pushing more forcefully at the boundaries of the piece. Mulelid’s expansive solo is sometimes reminiscent of Keith Jarrett, even down to the vocalisations that follow the trajectory of his playing. Meanwhile Winther’s drumming becomes more vigorous and less restrained as the music gathers momentum before slowing down again for a further passage of solo piano followed by a group restatement of the opening theme as the piece finally resolves itself. This is a highly involving piece of music offering lots of interesting musical ideas and a high level of group interplay, particularly between the piano and drums.

“Children’s Song”, with a title nodding towards Chick Corea, is less complex but no less beautiful with its wistful piano melodies, sensitively brushed drums and melodic bass interjections. Again there’s something of a hint of Jarrett in Mulelid’s soloing as the music gradually gathers a degree of momentum.

“You Stood There In Silence, Having No Words” takes the trio into freer, more exploratory waters in a genuine three way exchange in which the comparative economy of the playing of both Mulelid and Hegge contrasts with the restless, but consistently absorbing and apposite, drum commentary from Winther.
A piece like this makes the listener appreciate just how finely attuned this trio is, a quality that is again made manifest in the following “C & R”, a genuine collective improvisation that features similar levels of interaction and takes the trio even further into uncharted territory.  This includes the use of extended techniques with Mulelid sometimes operating ‘under the lid’ while Winther deploys cymbal scrapes and items of small percussion. It should be said that both these pieces contain moments of genuine beauty, a word not always closely associated with ‘free jazz’.

“C & R” segues almost imperceptibly into “From Someone Else’s Point Of View” (the title an E.S.T. reference, perhaps). The music continues to inhabit the hinterland between composition and improvisation and again there’s the sense of a genuine musical conversation going on with the dialogue between Mulelid and Winther again particularly compelling with the drummer playing with a great sense of drama throughout, alternately brutal and delicate.

“Time/Breath” begins with a passage of delicate, atmospheric percussion and there’s an ECM-like sense of space about the piece as piano and bowed bass are added to the equation in a sombre, delicately brooding performance that again embraces extended techniques and which sounds as if it may have been largely improvised.

Tracks three to seven explore similar musical areas and they feel thematically linked, almost semi-conceptual. A good deal of thought has obviously gone into the scheduling of the recording.

“Leaving Home” is more obviously composed and is much more rhythmic and groove based - but still with plenty of room for self expression, particularly from Mulelid, who solos rhythmically and with great energy, and from the relentlessly busy Winther.

The album concludes with “Three Last Words” which features a gorgeous piano melody and which promises to end the work on an elegiac note. However a prolonged passage of silence leads to a final three-way exchange that emphasises both the adventurousness and compatibility of this well balanced and highly democratic trio.

In the overcrowded world of the piano trio Kjetil Mulelid has carved out a distinctive niche for himself,  neatly straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation and avoiding the clichés of both American and Scandinavian jazz. It’s an interesting place to be and creates music that represents absorbing, if occasionally challenging, listening.

Drummer Winther represents an interesting new discovery for me. Bright, inventive, receptive and energetic he shines throughout the performance. I’d certainly welcome the opportunity of hearing him in other contexts such as the septet Megalodon Collective or the sax/drums duo Left Exit.

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