Avant-Garde Jazz Gets ‘Live’ Remix at Norway’s Punkt Fest


Tigran Hamasyan performs at the Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, Norway, on Sept. 3.

(Photo: Ruben Olsen Laerk)

An increasing number of festivals are making their mark through unusual presentations, and Norway’s Punkt is a prime example. Since 2005, the southern coastal town of Kristiansand has hosted Punkt, although the venues have regularly changed throughout the years. The 2016 edition took place Sept. 1–3.

Punkt specializes in the art of the “instant live remix,” with an emphasis on shadowy samplist lurking on a discreet platform at the back of a stage. Mere seconds after a 45-minute set of music concludes, the lights shift their orientation, illuminating the remix artist (or perhaps two or three). There follows a reconfiguration of the sonic matter just heard by the audience, with few rules in place: Sometimes a remix will follow from the established mood of the previous set. Other times, the approach can be shockingly different, revealing a completely new direction.

The creators of Punkt are electronicists Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, whose artist invitations are always intriguing and exciting. Most of the headlining artists are usually Norwegian, but past international visitors include Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, Jon Hassell, David Sylvian, Gavin Bryars and John Paul Jones.

One of this year’s outstanding sets featured the Atmospheres quartet, only a day after the European release of their self-titled ECM album. (Label founder Manfred Eicher was scheduled to appear for a mid-day lecture, but had to cancel due to a mild injury).

Nevertheless, on Sept. 3, Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan joined Norwegians Arve Henriksen (trumpet), Eivind Aarset (guitar/electronics) and Bang (electronics) to offer some of the most restrained music possible, floating at the perimeter of silence. Each musical gesture was made with utmost subtlety, as the players were acutely aware of the tension created by sonic open space and anticipatory pausing.

All four players built very slowly, delicately circling each other, embarking on a group meditation. Henriksen adopted the tonal qualities of an Armenian duduk double-reed flute, working alongside Hamasyan to impart a folksy frisson. The pianist made faint traceries, which were turned into blasting contrails by Bang, creating the electronic equivalent of a dispersed marimba sound. Even though generally calm, the foursome sometimes awakened into a more aggressive form than heard on the new two-CD set.

This was hyper-minimalism, with delicate trumpet and electronic murmurs. Then Aarset’s guitar began to sound like Henriksen’s trumpet, all granular texture. Hamasyan reached under the piano lid in search of zither equivalents as Henriksen found a contrabass clarinet sound within his horn, recalling the lowest throbbing of a didgeridoo. During the final piece, the group became more aggressive, as Bang and Aarset upped the electronic edge.

Simen Løvgren’s subsequent remix contrarily imposed a severe density, absolutely refusing to extend the set’s mood. He offered heavy pulse repetition that contained clicks and tonal swoops, all emanating from the darkness at the rear of the stage. Eventually, piano sounds emerged, and then the throb decelerated. The piece concluded with a burst of trumpet heralding the return of a lumbering beat.

The following set was only the second gig played by keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft’s fresh incarnation of his New Conception Of Jazz, yet it marked the 20th anniversary of this project. It’s an all-female foursome of drums, tabla, guitar and tenor saxophone, invested with the responsibility of groove-based improvisation within agreed tune-structures. Beginning with searching abstraction (tabla edged with Sun Ra-style cosmic echoes), the piece quickly morphed into hardcore electronic spurts.

As the beat began to shift gears, a tougher, more fearsome rhythm was generated. The saxophone and guitar were both highlighted via brief solo phases, acting as a pause between the propulsive meat. Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir’s guitar had a pronounced Indian aura, which meshed nicely with Sanskriti Shrestha’s talkative tabla. Soon, the music was spiced with Arabic and flamenco phrases. Most of the band also provided vocals, which ranged from Nick Drake folksiness to droll Carla Bley recitation.

This last element was prominently employed in the remix by Jens Kola, Johannes Vaage and Stian Balducci, featuring live drums and guitar. After a dithering start, there was a marked improvement when the group snatched upon a repeated vocal phrase, which surfaced amid a disengaged abstraction.

Henriksen and Wesseltoft met later at the ultra-crowded Vaktbua bar, guesting with Løvgren and Even Sarucco. Their music was set against a brutally repetitive and minimalist techno throb, amassing a primal, ritualistic energy.

Henriksen impatiently switched between trumpet, primitivist chants and wired-up goblet-drum clattering, as Wesseltoft warped out harsh electronic matter. This was Punkt at its most terrifying, the conclusion of a festival that made space for all extremes, from tribal pulsing to monastic introversion.

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