Blow Out Fest Moves Forward in All Directions

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Evan Parker performs at the Blow Out! Festival, which ran from Aug. 16–19 in Oslo, Norway.

(Photo: Kjetil Tangen)

Stoked by mild weather and freedom from the long winter nights, Norwegians pack their summer with music festivals. In the middle of August, banners for the Oslo Jazz Festival hang from downtown streetlights, but at the same time, across town at Café Mir, drummers Paal Nilssen-Love and Ståle Liavik Solberg convene the Blow Out! Festival. Founded in 2010, the event opens a bi-weekly concert series, currently booked by Solberg, that bears the same name.

This year, the event encompassed four evening concerts at Mir, an intimate club that, under previous management, was known as the Oslo Jazz House, with four sets per night plus two intimate afternoon events held in bookstores.

This year’s festival, which ran Aug. 16–19 underscored the connections that improvisational practices forge between music scenes, nationalities and generations. Performers included veteran improvisers from England, Germany, the U.S. and Sweden; local musicians who play rock, classical and folk music; and a host of young Scandinavian women whose acumen and commitment bode well for the futures of free-jazz and experimental music. The quality rarely flagged, and neither did the musicians’ energy and relish for intense engagement.

Saxophonist Evan Parker was Blow Out’s de facto guest of honor (his face appeared on the festival’s t-shirt). The 73-year-old Briton’s two appearances were focused expressions of his gifts as an instrumentalist and an improviser. He stuck to tenor during a duet with Solberg on Aug. 17. The drummer used an unusually configured drum kit—3 snare drums, including one tipped on its side, 3 cymbals, and a hi-hat — to project light, rapidly changing bursts of rhythm and color that left plenty of space for Parker’s unusually long phrases and intricately fingered flourishes, which create an illusion of polyphony even though they come one note at a time.

John Butcher and Ikue Mori
John Butcher and Ikue Mori perform at Blow Out! in Oslo, Norway. (Photo: Kjetil Tangen)

Even more powerful was Parker’s solo set on Aug. 19. Forty-two years after he recorded his first solo album, there’s still nothing else quite like what he does with a soprano saxophone. The otoacoustic emissions generated by Parker’s quick-cycling sweeps through the horn’s highest registers mixed with his unbroken, circular breathing-fueled streams of sound to create an electrifying, inner-body experience. While the physical impact of his music is akin to that which comes from watching an experimental flicker film, embedded in his performance were intimations of Monkish melody.

John Butcher, another Englishman who plays the same horns as Parker, made music that was equally crucial and singular. His iron command of his instruments allows him to shift fleetly between pure tones, puffs of unformed breath, piercing whistles and burred, quasi-electronic timbres, sometimes deploying several within a single phrase.

During his solo performance at the tiny Cappelens Forslag bookstore, Butcher used these elements to construct pieces full of abrupt changes and startling, elegant resolutions. His great intervallic leaps and unerring sense for when to drop out added immeasurable excitement to a quartet on Aug. 17 that included fellow Englishman Veryan Weston on piano and the high-energy rhythm section of bassist Øyvind Storesund and drummer Dag Erik Knedal Andersen.

But it was a marvelous first-time encounter on Aug. 18 with drummer Tony Buck and electronicist Ikue Mori that yielded the festival’s most otherworldly music. Buck, a Berlin-based Australian who also plays with the Necks, and Mori, a New Yorker with a nonpareil vocabulary of glassy, birdlike and alien sounds, steered the music between evocations of natural phenomena and alien electronic environments. Butcher’s stark melodies and vivid timbres were the glue that held together his partners shifts between imaginary worlds. Here’s hoping that this trio keeps convening.

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October 2019
Poncho Sanchez
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