Overture to a Holiday in Europe


Morten J. Olsen
Bass Drum!
NORWAY +3DB +3DB017 (2013)

Vera Kappeler
O Hett I Flügel

Trio Vopá

And so we began our trip, freezing Englishers, right up north, at Grieghallen Studio in Bergen, Norway, where 1982, Nils Økland, Sigbjørn Apeland and Øyvind Skarbø, record their fourth album, A/B.

I have been nuts about Økland’s work with the Hardanger Fiddle for years, picking up his gorgeous solo records on Rune Grammofon. If this weren’t enough, the last 1982 LP saw collaboration with pedal steel player BJ Cole. Here, the trio incorporate wind players from the fertile Norwegian jazz scene, including a member of Jaga Jazzist.

As the title A/B suggests, the album is split conceptually into a classic A and B side, with a long piece, ‘18:06’, filling the A side. All the track titles are the lengths of the pieces.

This long, opening cut meanders fluid lines like a Helgeroa Spring thaw. For nearly ten minutes we’re lost in wonderful, barely-formed, emerging nature, before structures start to appear. Varèsean structures, as life begins to twitch and leap under the glacial beauty. The wind sextet begins to drift across. I hear Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, the Dane Carl Nielsen, and the flute and horn experimentation of Roland Kirk’s Atlantic years.

Again, this evaporates like morning fog, revealing Økland and a single drum beat. The call and response of a species that survived the Cretaceous period, frozen, emerging to challenge the territory of some terrified indigenous furry mammal.

The second side opens, presenting folk structures, with Økland’s fiddle up front, as the piano plays an almost techno set of stabs. We’re clearly back in human habitation. A band experiments while tuning up, and this gives way to a respectful, tender lament, with brush drumming.

From here, we finish our Aquavit, and inadvisedly get into a car with Norwegian Morten J. Olsen, to travel to his adopted home in Berlin, and hear him experiment with his treasured 32″ rotating bass drum. Olsen was in the Lightning Bolt-esque MoHa, with guitarist Anders Hana, which then morphed into the absolutely incredible Ultralyd, with reed player Frode Gjerstad. If you haven’t heard the Ultralyd album Conditions For A Piece of Music, on Rune Grammofon, make sure you have by the end of the week.

This record, however, is pure percussive formalism. Craft. Olsen manages to transform his limited kit into an entire musical landscape, with an ecosystem and appropriate titles such as ‘Ideologically Justified Rubble’. As we leave, Olsen thanks the cosmos for girls who shop at Victoria’s Secret. It is good to see that the Muse is not lost on younger artists, these are tone poems of rhythm after all.

As I point this out, I suddenly realise that the missing gods here are Noxagt, only then can the pantheon be complete. I would like to see the 1982 trio collaborate with them, and Ultralyd, in a sprawling, mutant, Sun Ra-esque supergroup. Holiday fantasies, all.

And so Olsen snaps us out of our reverie, as the last track ends, and sends us out into the street with a cheery wave, to check out Vera Kappeler, whose O Hett I Flügel album straddles indeterminacy and improvisation, composition and counter-strategy. Jazz and Weimar blues sail up through the floorboards, skewed.

We are travel-weary, but we still manage to wander further into Kreuzberg to pick up on Trio Vopá, comprising trumpeter Roland Spieth, guitarist Cornelius Veit and bassist Axel Haller. They open ‘Chartreuse’ with a drone-tone seance called ‘Whirr’, and the subsequent cuts are all spits and stabs of texture, improvisation and experiment. More ideologically justifiable rubble.

Outside, in West Yorkshire, the snow continues to fall hard and heavy, making travel impossible.