Review: Scene Norway 2 – Hilde Marie Kjersem Band + Spin Marvel and Nils Petter Molvær at Kings Place (EFG LJF)

Spin Marvel with Nils Petter Molvær at Kings Place
Photo credit: Thea Gunnes / Royal Norwegian Embassy

Hilde Marie Kjersem Band + Spin Marvel with Nils Petter Molvær
(Scene Norway 2. Kings Place Hall 1. 16 November 2013. Review by Alex Roth)

On the opening weekend of the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival King’s Place was at the heart of the action, thanks in no small part to the intersection of LJF with another festival of international scope and renown. Curated by Fiona Talkington, Scene Norway was in its second incarnation and over the course of its three days filled both of KP’s concert halls, as well as its art gallery, with Norwegian music, art and literature events.

Ms Talkington will be familiar to BBC Radio 3 listeners as the presenter of Late Junction, surely the most musically diverse programme on the airwaves. In any given episode you might hear medieval plainsong next to contemporary electronica or traditional music from a remote corner of the planet. As a special interest of Ms Talkington’s, Norwegian music has also featured heavily over the years, and there is no one better placed to introduce some of the that country’s finest musicians to London’s stage.

Saturday’s headline performance featured the Artist-in-Residence of Scene Norway 2, trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær, with Spin Marvel – the Anglo-Norwegian brain-child of drummer Martin France. Spin Marvel’s two albums bring together a kind of post-Crimson progginess with splashes of the expansive, at times meditative, electronic ambience so characteristic of certain contemporary Scandinavian artists, particularly those (like Molvær) associated with the ECM label.

Given the credentials of the group’s leader, who is well-known for his work with Kenny Wheeler, Django Bates, John Taylor and many others, one might wonder why Spin Marvel hasn’t achieved a higher profile in the UK. Part of the answer may be that while the band’s heavily improvised approach is best experienced live, concert appearances since its 2005 debut album have been relatively scarce. It was no surprise then to see Hall One packed for what promised to be a special concert.

Unfortunately, the synth-laden power-pop of the support band, led by singer Hilde Marie Kjersem, led to some seats being vacated during the interval. Those who left missed an engaging and adventurous hour-long improvisation.

Although France can be sensitively understated when required, there is a muscularity to his playing in Spin Marvel, and he took the initiative from the get-go, leading the band into high-octane exchanges early on. Molvær seemed more at home here than in his guest appearance with Kjersem, apparently relishing the interactivity and spontaneity of France, bassist Tim Harries and sound designer Terje Evensen. The trumpeter’s distinctive sound – somewhere between a whisper and a cry – drew the listener’s attention, but Molvær knows how and when to use space, affording his colleagues plenty of opportunity to shape proceedings.

Harries draws a wonderfully full sound from his bass guitar, whether holding down subby grooves or backing gentler passages with chorale-like harmonies. Meanwhile Evensen provided the textural glue that held everything in place. One minute he was processing the crackle of France’s snare, the next interjecting subtle electronic washes that took the music into new areas.

With the Loop Collective simultaneously curating its own mini-festival over in Hall Two (including an appearance by Norwegian guitar hero Stian Westerhus), and the unique vocalist Sidsel Endresen performing the following afternoon, the events at King’s Place alone got the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival off to an exciting start. Happily, there is plenty more still to come over the next week.

Alex Roth’s EFG London Jazz Festival Dates are HERE

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