Live review

Hedvig Mollestad and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra: ‘Maternity Beat’ (2020 EFG LJF)

Hedvig Mollestad and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra – Maternity Beat
(UK premiere of streamed recording from Molde Jazz Festival. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Rob Mallows

Hedwig Mollestad. Screenshot.

A descending clock on YouTube doesn’t offer the anticipatory frisson of the lights going down, but these are strange times for live music fans in a month when London would normally resound to live jazz.
This UK premiere of a live gig recorded at the Molde Jazz festival this summer was a consolation prize, albeit a welcome one; the lively applause from the crowd in Molde was a reminder of what we’re all missing.
They were welcoming one of the brightest stars in the Norwegian jazz firmament, guitarist Hedvig Mollestad, who earlier this year released a strong debut album Ekhidna [REVIEWED] after ten years of albums with her trio.
This show was a full performance of her Maternity Beat suite. It was new to me and, in parts, markedly different material from her recent output.
For example, the show opened with discordant Pearl-and-Dean-style sounds from Mai Elise Solberg and Ingebjørg Loe Bjørnstad and Mollestad’s scratchy bowed guitars.
Edgy, but where was the explosive guitar? No fear. It made its entrance soon enough.
Though powerful, Mollestad’s guitar work throughout was never intrusive. There were plenty of opportunities for the guest Trondheim Jazz Orchestra – who surely can lay claim to being the most northern jazz orchestra in the world – to shine. The alto sax player Petter Kraft, for example, on the second track, smashing it out of the park.
As the show progressed, momentarily one could forget Mollestad was playing, such was the space available to the TJO. But then a crashing held chord and it was apparent – Mollestad was back in charge.
The best parts of this gig were when it was just the guitar, drums and bass, Mollestad’s echo pedal turned up and the strings just left to vibrate and decay.
Some tracks provided haunting moments of stillness; others were spiky and threatening.
Mollestad is nothing if not an expansive composer and the show took plenty of unexpected and curious turns; it wasn’t just one track after the other. Rather, it was like a series of convulsions and caesuras designed to grab your attention.
It was pure jazz; then rock, folk, esoterica, blues at times. At one point, someone on the live chat said it sounded like Yes.
All tastes catered for in Molde!
Halfway through, the ensemble entered free-jazz territory to throw the audience off the scent. But each time a departure was made, the show returned to the steadfast goodness of a hot riff and growling feedback.
The show was a demonstration of beauty in simplicity, with occasional outbreaks of controlled chaos as the brass section acted like a turbocharger on already stonking music. Every soloist brought something to the table and never outstayed their welcome.
All throughout, Mollestad’s guitar rang true. Her sound engineer Ketil Nocolaysen earned his corn on this gig.
A notable contribution came from the two singers and their vocal improvisations which fleshed out the overall sound and created some edgy moments: at one point, Solberg and Bjørnstad sounded like they were revving a Honda 50.
In our current predicament, music acts as a salve to ease away our collective discomfort and frustrations. Even though this show was a recorded gig, it was an 80-minute reminder of what we’re missing and, more importantly, what we have to look forward to at some point in the future.
And I hope that point is reasonably soon.

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