Guitarist Hedvig Mollestad Eschews Stylistic Purity

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Guitarist Hedvig Mollestad (center) said her band doesn’t think in terms of “jazz or rock.”

(Photo: Julia Nagelstad)

Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad learned music through a jazz lens. Her father, Lars Martin Thomassen, was a professional flugelhornist who worked with reedist Jan Garbarek in the mid-’70s, and she studied under the highly respected guitarist Jon Eberson, but points out that she’s never experienced or played music with any sort of stylistic purity. As with most musicians her age, Mollestad, 36, grew up listening to all sorts of stuff, and her muscular trio reflects that sort of multiplicity. Smells Funny (Rune Grammofon), the bracing sixth album from her trio with bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad, toggles among meaty riffs redolent of Black Sabbath, overdriven improvisations and impossibly heavy grooves.

“We don’t think in terms of ‘jazz or rock’ when we work,” said Mollestad. “There is one big bag of fantastic music that we have listened to, and I think our music is a dip into that bag, containing anything from Jim Hall to Stravinsky, grunge, Brit-pop, prog-psychedelia, bebop and avant-garde whatnot.” The trio came together in 2009 while its members were students at the Norwegian Academy of Music. And after a short time playing jazz standards almost bereft of joy, the group found its calling when the musicians cranked up the volume and began injecting doses of hard rock. The trio’s 2011 debut, Shoot!, emerged from a small community of Scandinavian musicians applying the improvisational rigor and harmonic complexity of jazz to ferocious prog-rock and post-metal—groups like Elephant9 and Scorch Trio. But none have operated with the same sense of purpose as Mollestad’s trio, which is driven by a desire to bring unrelenting intensity to its live performances.

“When we’ve made our last two records, our goal wasn’t to make the best record ever,” she said. “It was to be a version of ourselves where we are right now.” That version just happened to make the trio’s strongest record yet with Smells Funny, a pointed reference to Frank Zappa’s ubiquitous quote about the health of jazz. The trio is too busy crafting massive, exploratory jams as a tightly wound ensemble to spend time wondering about where the music belongs. “We play dirty jazz clubs in cellars around Poland, Royal Festival Hall at London Jazz Festival, supporting John McLaughlin, with a sitting audience on balconies, and the next day a head-banging crowd in a small club in Paris.”

When the band formed, Hedvig wrote nearly all of the material, but over the years the whole trio became involved in developing compositions: “I think our interplay is almost like a fourth member in the band,” explained Brekken. “We have also been playing so many concerts, and hung out so much together in cars, airports and so on that we really know each other inside and out.”

Although each member brought in pieces for the new record, in the end it’s all credited to the trio. “It is a goal that everybody contributes riffs, songs or melodies,” said Mollestad. “The music gets better that way.” Indeed, Smells Funny is the group’s most unified effort, simultaneously riding hypnotic, hard-hitting grooves where Brekken’s authoritative lines provide an indestructible backbone for the guitarist’s journeys between outer space and deep earth. DB



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July 2019
Anat Cohen
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