Rune Grammofon Marks 20 Years with Two-Day Oslo Concert

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Back in the ’80s, Rune Kristoffersen was a founding member of the Norwegian post-punk/new wave band Fra Lippo Lippi. The band was somewhat popular in Europe (and, mysteriously, the Philippines). But by the ’90s, life as a musician had lost its charm. After a few years as ECM’s label manager in Norway, Kristoffersen decided to strike out on his own, and Rune Grammofon was born.

“I wanted to have my own label, basically, because working with ECM, I was doing the work after the product was finished, promotion and marketing, but I wanted to be part of the whole process,” he said.

Kristoffersen was deeply ambitious from the start: the first RG release in 1998 was a triple disc, Supersilent’s 1-3. In the two decades since that initial release, he’s put out jazz, rock, metal, noise, and music beyond category or description. Because it’s a one-man show—he keeps a desk in the offices of Grappa, a Norwegian label/distributor—every RG release has one thing in common. “I need to really like the material, or, alternatively, I have to have the sense ... that this is important, this should be out on a record. It doesn’t all have to be my desert island discs—I don’t have to love it all. But I need to see or hear that this deserves to be released because it’s important.”

On Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, Rune Grammofon celebrated 20 years of existence with a two-night concert at Oslo’s Nasjonal Jazzscene, a beautiful and intimate space with a phenomenal sound system. The first night featured performances by vocalist and composer Maja S.K. Ratkje and progressive hard-rock band Motorpsycho.

Ratkje took the stage and nestled into a kind of fortress of equipment, surrounding herself with multiple keyboards, a laptop, a theremin and a microphone. As a solo act, she performs improvised vocal music, as well as complex electronic noise; she also composes for ensembles as large as a full orchestra. Her 45-minute set here encompassed electronic zaps and shrieks, wild ululations, delicate waves of sound from the theremin and a surprising passage of sound art, as she crumpled a huge sheet of plastic wrap into the microphone. But Ratkje brought it all back down to earth at the conclusion of her set with a sorrowful rendition of the traditional song “Mining For Gold” (the best-known version of the tune likely being a version from the Cowboy Junkies’ 1988 The Trinity Session).

Motorpsycho delivered a much more conventional rock set, though, the band’s highly adventurous in their own way. Its music feels like a cross between the Melvins and Pink Floyd, with stomping riffs giving way to extended improvisations—songs easily can sprawl past the 20-minute mark, especially on their Roadwork series of live albums, which recently has reached its fifth installment.

Nov. 30 also was the Norwegian release date for the Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s fifth studio album, Smells Funny. The band headlined the second show, following a packed in-store appearance in downtown Oslo.

Their opening act was Fire!, a saxophone-bass-drums trio led by Mats Gustafsson, whose latest disc, The Hands, was issued in January. Bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin specialize in thick, heavy, repetitive riffs that sound like a cross between krautrock and doom metal. Gustafsson switches between tenor and baritone saxophones on recordings, but at Nasjonal Jazzscene, he stuck resolutely to the big horn, emitting long cries that sounded like a mammoth being speared. He also added waves of electronic noise to the group’s music, bending over a collection of linked pedals and devices on a nearby tabletop, and twiddling knobs and pressing buttons until hideous howls filled the club. Berthling’s bass was a massive roar and Werliin’s drumming was both minimal and ritualistic. Each piece was simultaneously its own thing and part of a larger whole, like stones being assembled into a mound.

The Hedvig Mollestad Trio exists in a blurry zone between small-group swing and crunching hard rock. Mollestad’s riffs fly from a massive Gibson, her sound half John McLaughlin, half Tony Iommi. Bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Bjornstad aren’t her rhythm section—they’re equal partners, shifting the music on a dime; Brekken, in particular, is a co-leader. Whether on electric or upright bass, her playing is fluid and high-energy, creating countermelodies that frequently become lead lines, as Mollestad retreated to let a single long note sing out, Bjornstad hammering the kit with precise ferocity. Their set was loud and soaring, but when they slowed down and dug into a bluesy ballad, it also could be quite beautiful.

Rune Kristoffersen and his label have been pursuing a highly individual path for 20 years. And fortunately for fans of the adventurous music Rune Grammofon releases, this two-night celebration was a milestone, not a farewell. DB



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January 2019
Eric Dolphy
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