|Hedvig Mollestad. Photo credit: Markus Thorsen|
Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen is a Norwegian guitarist. She won the 2009 Young Jazz Talent of the Year Award at the Molde International Jazz Festival in Norway, has performed at the 2014 Vancouver and Ottawa Jazz Festivals, and at SXSW in 2013. Nicky Schrire, who will be covering the Berlin Jazz Festival for us, spoke to her ahead of her trio’s appearance at the 2014 Berlin jazz Festival (October 30th-November 2nd).
London Jazz News: Tell us something about where your music comes from, and what got you into jazz?
Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen: I graduated from the Norwegian Academy of Music in 2010 (my trio members bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad also went there), studying for more or less five years, and before that I studied musicology at the University of Oslo, where I also focused on jazz guitar.
However, jazz came into my life with my father, which means it has been there from the very beginning, as he played trumpet and flugelhorn, and participated in the Norwegian Jazz Scene in the 60’s and 70’s, and even recorded with Jan Garbarek. I’ve grown up with the musical expressions of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Art farmer, Freddie Hubbard, Oliver Nelson, and I still listen to that music. As I started to play guitar, I explored the work of Hendrix, while simultaneously listening to the work of guitarists like Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie. I didn’t reflect too much on the fact they had different ways of expressing themselves, I just found them all very interesting and enjoyed their playing. I also listened to free improvisation at an early age, and I guess the wildness of that music was easy for me to combine with the quiet voice of guitarists like Jim Hall. As I got older, more heavy music came into my life, and I enjoyed that too. Bands like Motorpsycho, Led Zeppelin, Mahavishnu, Rush, Black Sabbath-although they are very different, I find that they have so much in common.
LJN: Forgive the question, but is it rock? Is it jazz….?
I actually hate talking about genres, because I think we have lost a sense of what rock or jazz actually mean. So I find it more interesting to talk about what jazz means to me, cause it might be something completely different to you or any other reader. To me, the core of jazz is improvisation, it is to listen while you play, it is a way of reacting, a way of behaving, a way of thinking, or not thinking while you play. It is allowing things to happen. It is a set of thoughts on how to relate to playing music. If we succeed in keeping this set of ideas while we make and perform music, then I think jazz is present in the music of the trio.
It is much easier for me to describe how the ensemble thinks than to put words to what the actual genre is. The guitar is distorted in a way that is supposed to make it sing, growl, howl, cry and whisper; the drums are sometimes, hectic, sometimes loud, sometimes soft, but inevitably deeply tied together with the bass, which is pounding, finding its way underneath, in between and sometimes in front of the guitar. The three instruments should, at all times, be a unit, even when not all of us are playing.
LJN: What have been some highlights for the Hedvig Mollestad Trio thus far?
HMT: It is hard to talk about highlights, because they appear when we least expect them, and they are most of the time very small and simple. It can be on an old rehearsal tape that you haven’t heard for a while, it can be a moment in a solo where everything comes together just right, it can be an invitation to play in a very remote country, or when we all agree on a recording in the same way. Every time we release a new record, it is in one way satisfying, knowing that a great amount of work is finished. Still, I think our travels are quite memorable, like the ones to US, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, and of course our three Europe tours. I must say, opening for John McLaughlin in London later this November is something that we are really looking forward to.
LJN: Your trio has released three albums to date (all on Rune Grammofon), and you performed on the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (TJO’)s album “Ekko” (MNJ Records) which featured vocalist Elin Rosseland. The music on that recording is much more orchestral and very different to your trio music. What was the experience of recording and performing with the TJO like for you?
HMT: Working with experienced and extremely inspiring musicians like Elin Rosseland, is a true pleasure and really interesting. As you know, the TJO’s crew changes from project to project. I also played and recorded the works of Øyvind Brekke (2011’s “Migrations”), which I find to be extremely epic and a masterpiece. To dive into other great musicians work, and participate with my own voice, is truly a great pleasure and helps my own music to develop. I also play with other artists, performing music with expressions far away from the trio’s. But as I have always listened to very different kinds of music, and still do, it is not that strange to play different kinds of music, though I prefer my focus to be my work with the trio, of course.
LJN: Are you aware of sounds and musical references that you use as being specific to Norway and the music scene there?
HMT: No, not really. Of course I listen to a lot of my fellow musicians and what they do, and I’m sure they influence me in some way, but I wouldn’t be able to take that down to a matter of common geographic affiliation.
LJN: What can audiences expect at your performance at Berlin Jazz Festival this weekend? Will you be performing new music as well as repertoire from all three albums?
HMT: Well, as we have been on tour for a month, and this being our last gig, I suppose we’ll have the urge to burn whatever energy is left. Although we try to do so every night, no matter where or when we play. Still, I believe that it will be a special night, as it often is when it is the last day of touring. We always try to be dynamic, and we change the set list every night. We’ll play music from all three albums, playing like it was the very last thing we were going to do, and hopefully the crowd will be alive and working together with us, making this the BEST Saturday night of 2014!
Hedvig Mollestad Trio performs at Berlin Jazz Festival on Saturday 1st November at Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Side Stage.