Two things will coincide for Nils Petter Molvær this Friday 6 October: he will be at Ronnie Scott’s with his quartet: Jo Berger Myhre, guitar/bass, drummer Erland Dahlen, Swedish guitarist/ pedal steel guitarist Johan Lindström and the Norwegian trumpeter himself – the group who made the 2021 album “Stitches”.
The date also marks the release of a new orchestral album “Certainty of Tides”. These albums are his second and third releases on Modern Recordings, after “SulaMadiana” (2020) and a fourth is in preparation. Feature by Sebastian Scotney.
There has always been the sense with Nils Petter Molvær that he was not going to follow but to lead, and also to be a pioneer. He never finished the course at Trondheim, and yet both he and his direct contemporary Tore Brunborg were singled out as being more than special.
Molvær tells the story of how the two of them were given their first external engagement. Both were asked by pianist Jon Balke to play in an onstage theatre band for a children’s play, as an owl… “in pink tights and high heeled shoes and a lot of make-up”, he said in a recent interview.
That surreal start led to both Brunborg and Molvær being part of Masqualero, where they played alongside Balke (born 1955 and from an intermediate generation) and also with two of the defining figures in Norwegian music, Jon Christensen and Arild Andersen, both from a slightly older generation than Balke.
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It is now just over twenty-five years since the release of a defining album in his own name, “Khmer” on ECM, and to some extent things have turned full circle. Molvær, now in his early sixties, is still interested in broadening his activity, in the role of leader, with younger people around him.
Evidence of that breadth is everywhere: he has just won an award for the film music of director Sebastian Meisel’s “Grosse Freiheit”. And yet the sheer range of music into which Molvær can adapt his sensibilities ad talents will probably become clearest when his next in a series of albums for Modern Recordings comes out next year.
He has said that he sees “Stitches”, “Certainty of Tides” and a third album for release next year as a three-part series. And in that context they fit together as showing the contrasting facets of an artist at an important stage of his career.
“Stitches” is essentially about the now. We find new compositions, to which the band members have contributed and the whole band have worked on them together. Molvær says he wanted to make a band a unit where people come up with ideas : “I want people to do what they do rather than what I tell them to do. Like Miles…” He says what matters is that the band members should have a lot of freedom to make their impact, and that the whole process should be organic rather than planned.
The final track of “Stitches” is Radiohead’s “True Love Waits”, and that provides a clue to the essence of how Molvær considers himself as a trumpeter. In his youth he was in rock bands as the one of those multi-talented people who could turn his hand to everything: drums or bass or guitar. As a trumpeter there were times, he has admitted, when he couldn’t make peace with the instrument. But the solution came when he started to conceive of its role as the nearest instrument to the human voice, and “True Love Waits” truly defines that ‘vocal-yet-instrumental’ approach to the instrument in a magical way.
The second in the triptych, this week’s new release looks back…, and yet also looks forward. “Certainty of Tides” takes compositions from previous albums. Despite the large forces involved, there is a core vibe of spaciousness, and a lot of pauses for silence and for reflection. It is an album in which every silence seems to ask a question. There are some younger-generation electronics wizards too – Kristian Isachsen and Even Frodesen Rosstad – who have had a role in shaping the album.
If the first album is current, and the second looks both back and forwards, then the third album to complete the set, partly a mystery with only a few of the decisions fully made, will be looking outward: Molvær has embraced a series of different collaborations. The whole roster has not been published, but from what has been said so far, there are partnerships with a Japanese koto player, a song sextet, the German musician Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto), and The Improbables . Molvær has said that part of his motivation is to “get rid of the genre thing”.
Yes, Nils Petter Molvær is still innovating. His pioneering spirit is undimmed.
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