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Hanna Paulsberg Concept

Waltz For Lilli


by Ian Mann

December 13, 2012


"Waltz for Lilli" is one of the most impressive début albums I've heard for some time and is likely to be a record that I return to often.

Hanna Paulsberg Concept

“Waltz For Lilli”

(Ora Fonogram OFO34)

Hanna Paulsberg (born 1987) is a talented young saxophonist and composer from Norway. Introduced to the saxophone at the age of sixteen she first studied at Toneheim Folkehogskole before subsequently completing a BA in jazz at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. She is now studying for a Masters at the same institution and divides her time between Trondheim and Oslo. 

Simultaneously Paulberg is also nurturing a burgeoning professional career. Her quartet, the Concept, was convened at Trondheim in 2011. Fellow Norwegians Trygve Waldemar Fiske (bass) and Hans Hulbaekmo (drums) plus Swedish pianist Oscar Gronberg were studying on the same jazz course and an immediate rapport sprang up between the members of the group. They describe themselves as having ” a common passion for beautiful melodies and open improvisation in set forms and a love of ‘cookin’ jazz”.

The group’s music is less experimental and rock orientated than that of many of their compatriots and contemporaries. The début album “Waltz For Lilli” adheres broadly to the American jazz model with Paulsberg’s compositions owing something to the modal sound of Miles Davis, the “spiritual jazz” of John Coltrane and the melodic flair and harmonic adventurousness of Wayne Shorter . However Paulsberg also draws on folk like melodies and there are some great tunes on “Waltz For Lilli” which the group interpret with an impressive level of maturity. Nothing sounds rushed or forced and the whole album has a pleasantly organic feel about it. “Waltz For Lilli” suggests that Paulsberg is a player and composer of great promise. She also has a more experimental side, having worked on projects with Supersilent keyboard player Stale Storlokken and with the band Motorpsycho. 

I caught a fleeting glimpse of Paulsberg’s group at the 2012 Cheltenham Jazz Festival as they played to a capacity audience on one of the free stages and was impressed with what I heard. The young saxophonist had previously visited Cheltenham as part of the Trondheim Jazz Exchange, an international collaboration between the jazz students at the respective conservatoires in Birmingham and Trondheim. Many of the young musicians who have been involved in these annual exchanges are going on to develop promising professional jazz careers. 

Paulsberg also plays with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and was recently selected to represent Norway in the European Jazz Orchestra, touring Eastern Europe and cropping up on BBC Radio’s “Jazz on 3” programme playing melodica with the EJO!

Paulberg’s superbly accomplished début recording opens with the title track, a kind of modal waltz that combines gentle folk like melodies with subtle Coltrane inspired tenor work. Gronberg also represents a significant new discovery, a fluent and lyrical pianist with a sublime touch at the keyboard. He is an imaginative soloist, perhaps drawing inspiration from Keith Jarrett, some of the latter’s vocal mannerisms certainly seem to have rubbed off on the younger man. But Gronberg also has something of Jarrett’s inventiveness and is in inspired form throughout the album. Drummer Hans Hulbaekmo impressed recently with his imaginative and subtly detailed work on the album “Salmesykkel” (Hubro Records) by the piano trio Moskus, another group founded at Trondheim Conservatoire. Their recording, which also features pianist Ana Lauvdal and bassist Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson, is reviewed elsewhere on this site. Hulbaekmo exhibits many of the same qualities here, albeit in a different context and in general his playing is slightly more forceful but with the inventiveness and attention to detail still fully intact. Hulbaekmo is given licence to roam by the deeply resonant underpinning of Fiske’s bass.

Paulsberg’s compositions offer her musicians plenty of space in which to express themselves. “Potters Lullaby” (named perhaps for US saxophonist Chris Potter?) opens with a delightful dialogue for piano and percussion with Gronberg later stretching out on an expansive Jarrett like solo complete with vocal tics. Paulsberg adopts a lighter tone here but her solo is equally fluent and inventive.

The lovely “Sang til Pastor Wang” is a genuine ballad with a delightfully tender sax and piano introduction. Fiske then demonstrates his lyrical qualities on double bass above the delicate rustle of Hulbaekmo’s brushes. Paulberg’s own solo is calm and unhurried, supremely lyrical but infused with enough imagination to keep it interesting. There’s no sense of bluff and bluster about her playing, this is a musician who sounds far more mature than her twenty five years.

Paulsberg has expressed her admiration for the music of the great Wayne Shorter and her piece “Noah’s Tune” has some of the hallmarks of the great man including an arresting opening phrase that proves the jumping off point for a series of constantly evolving musical adventures. Paulsberg’s sound has something of Shorter’s lyricism and adventurousness and her band are receptive to every nuance. Gronberg also impresses with a typically expansive solo before the piece resolves itself with a reprise of the opening hook.

Paulsberg has a gift for writing memorable melodies as exemplified by ” A Trip To The Brown Castle”. However there’s more to her music than just pretty tunes and once again the Concept take us on a fascinating but always melodic journey with absorbing solos by Paulsberg and Gronberg and consistently interesting commentary from the busy and inventive Hulbaekmo.

The closing piece “Mufasa” is perhaps the most obviously “Nordic” track on the album, a gently lyrical tone poem featuring Paulsberg long sax melody lines, delicate, thoughtful piano and some exquisite details from Hulbaekmo. There’s also something of a feature for the impressive Fiske. There’s an almost hymnal quality to the piece as the album ends on a pleasingly elegiac note.

“Waltz for Lilli” is one of the most impressive début albums I’ve heard for some time and is likely to be a record that I return to often. Paulberg’s blend of American influences with a European sensibility is utterly convincing and there are some memorable tunes here which suggest considerable potential for the future. The playing from all four group members is exceptional throughout and they are well served by an excellent mix from engineers Jostein Ansnes and Jo Ranheim.

“Waltz for Lilli” suggests the emergence of a major new talent on the Norwegian jazz scene and beyond.  Paulsberg has toured extensively throughout Europe and the Concept appeared at the North London venue The Salisbury in May 2012 (the night after their Cheltenham appearance), a gig favourably reviewed by Geoff Winston writing on Sebastian Scotney’s London Jazz Blog site

Unfortunately Paulsberg’s website does not indicate any visits to the UK in 2013. A shame as on the evidence of this recording I would like to check out this excellent young band more fully.   

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