by Ian Mann
October 14, 2019
An album that builds on the promise of the début and which should find favour with all lovers of contemporary piano jazz.
Kjetil Mulelid Trio
“What You Thought Was Home”
(Rune Grammofon RCD2208)
Kjetil Mulelid – piano, Bjorn Marius Hegge – double bass, Andreas Skar Winther - drums
“What You Thought Was Home” is the second release on the Rune Grammofon label by the Kjetil Mulelid Trio, the follow up to 2017’s acclaimed “Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House”, reviewed here;
Mulelid, aged 28, was raised in the small Norwegian village of Hurdal and has been playing piano since the age of nine, initially inspired by the music of Frederic Chopin. He later developed an interest in jazz and subsequently obtained a bachelor degree in jazz performance from the NTNU in Trondheim before becoming a professional jazz musician.
Mulelid 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.
Now based in Copenhagen Mulelid a typical young 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 (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 Winther, vocalist Siril Maldemal Hauge,and former Lauv bassist Bardur Reinert Poulsen.
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. 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;
In 2018 Wako released a second quartet album, “Urolige Sinn”, for the Ora Fonogram label, a recording featuring compositions by both Olsen and Mulelid.
Mulelid also collaborates with Olsen as part of the saxophonist’s MMO Ensemble, a
jazz/classical quartet that also features vocalist Hauge and cellist Pettersen and 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.
As can be seen from the above the Norwegian jazz scene is something of a hothouse with the NTNU in Trondheim seemingly its epicentre. Bjorn Marius Hegge, bassist with the Mulelid trio, also studied there and appeared at the Trondheim Jazz Exchange in Cheltenham as recently as 2016. He has since turned professional and won a Norwegian Grammy for his début album with his quintet, a recording simply titled “Hegge”. The bassist also leads his own trio featuring pianist Oscar Gronberg and drummer Hans Hulbaekmo, two other Trondheim graduates. In June 2017 he released the album “Ideas”, leading an international quintet featuring Hulbaekmo, pianist Havard Wiik and the German musicians Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet) and Axel Dorner (trumpet).
Drummer Winther is also a Trondheim graduate. He is a member of the Fieldfare group and has recorded two albums as part of the septet Megalodon Collective, another group comprised of Trondheim alumni. Winther also appears on “Left Exit, Mr K”, a quartet recording on the Clean Feed label featuring Karl Hjalmar Nyberg and Klaus Holm (reeds) and Michael Duch (double bass). Winther is the younger brother of jazz guitarist Christian Skar Winther.
Turning now to this latest recording which features eight new original compositions from Mulelid, plus one from the pen of Hegge.
The album introduces itself quietly with Mulelid’s beautiful title track, which begins in almost subliminal fashion before Mulelid sketches out one of his most beguiling melodies at the piano. The piece unfolds slowly with the leader soloing in lyrical fashion, developing the flow of his ideas above the gentle bustle of Winther’s filigree cymbal work and the anchoring presence of Hegge’s bass. There’s an almost hymnal quality about the music that invites comparisons with the work of Mulelid’s fellow countryman Tord Gustavsen, something that Winther’s delicate, subtly detailed, Jarle Vespestad-like performance only encourages.
Mulelid’s next composition, “Folk Song”, raises the energy levels a touch and finds the trio improvising around an ongoing bass and piano vamp. This fulcrum actually affords the musicians, particularly Mulelid and Winther, a good deal of freedom, with the drummer playing a prominent role in the success of the performance. The interplay between him and Mulelid is particularly engrossing with the dialogue almost shading off into ‘free jazz’ on occasions.
More obviously influenced by Norwegian music is Hegge’s composition “Bruremarsj”, the title translating as “Wedding March”. Again this is a highly interactive performance from a very well balanced trio. Throughout the album Winther and Hegge are far more than mere ‘accompanists’, this is a highly contemporary trio who function together as a single entity.
As if to emphasise the point Hegge features as a soloist here, complementing Mulelid’s Jarrett like interpretations of the folk inspired melody.
Winther introduces “Tales” at the drums, setting the pace for another of Mulelid’s compositions, this one a brief fascinating balance between hymn like melody and almost free jazz like interplay; the apparently serene surface initially created subsequently pierced by shards of wilful dissonance.
“Far Away” is a beautiful solo piano performance from Mulelid that commences in gently lyrical fashion before gradually embracing a greater intensity and complexity. That early Chopin influence is particularly evident here.
Hegge and Winther return for “A Cautionary Tale Against A Repetitive Life”. It sounds like an E.S.T. title but the music is more gentle and considered, initially flowingly lyrical but leading to a series of repeated diminuendos, that presumably give the piece its name. Hegge’s bass helps to punctuate these moments and trio emerge on the other side with an expansive and discursive solo from Mulelid, before ending with another short sequence of diminuendos. It’s an intriguingly structured piece, that nevertheless manages to maintain the listener’s attention.
“Waltz For Ima” is an engaging jazz waltz that helps to reinforce the Bill Evans comparisons made about the trio’s début. Here Mulelid’s piano explorations are complemented by a lengthy bass solo from Hegge, who also enters into a spirited dialogue with the leader above the bustle of Winther’s brushed drums. Mulelid’s playing here manages to evoke both Evans and Jarrett, but still sounds fiercely individual.
“When Winter Turns To Spring” features the trio at their most interactive as they coalesce around Mulelid’s darting, staccato piano motifs. The leader’s Jarrett style vocalising suggests that much of the performance is freely improvised with both Hegge and Winther busy presences within the mix. Having reached a peak with their energetic but intricate interplay the trio then effect a slower, minimalist style outro.
The final track is “Homecoming”, introduced by Mulelid at the piano, another piece with a strong melody and a decidedly hymn like quality. Hegge delivers a highly melodic double bass solo while Winther’s performance offers a final reminder that he is one of the most ‘musical’ drummers around, his playing rich in terms of nuance, colour and texture, it’s so much more than just ‘keeping the beat’.
At the time of writing “What You Thought Was Home”, which was released on August 30th 2019, seems to have attracted rather less media attention than its widely acclaimed predecessor. I’m not quite sure why this should be as its another excellent recording incorporating strong melodies, rich harmonies and rhythmic inventiveness. The quality and imagination of the writing helps to engage the listener’s attention throughout and the quality of the playing is exceptional.
Despite the Evans and Jarrett comparisons this record sounds more obviously Norwegian than its predecessor with Gustavsen perhaps more of an influence this time round. But it’s still very much Mulelid’s record, an album that builds on the promise of the début and which should find favour with all lovers of contemporary piano jazz.
For what is still a comparatively young band it’s a highly mature collection from a very well integrated, highly interactive, and finely balanced trio.
The Kjetil Mulelid Trio are about to embark on a European tour with a date at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London on Thursday 31st October 2019. Full tour schedule below;
Kjetil Mulelid Trio
16.10 Stockholm (Glenn Miller Jazz Café), Sweden
17.10 Copenhagen (KoncertKirken), Denmark
18.10 Hamar (Jazzklubb), Norway
19.10 Hurdal (Kultursenter), Norway
20.10 Halden (Athletic Live), Norway
27.10 Paris (City Universitet Jazz Festival), Norway
31.10 Vortex (Jazz Club), UK
01.11 Brügge (27bFlat), Belgium
08.11 Ålesund (Parken Kulturhus), Norway
09.11 Fosnavåg (Konserthus), Norway
10.11 Trondheim (Antikvariatet), Norway