Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A whole lotta Haaker Flaten going on

Posted By on 03.31.09 at 03:13 PM

Powerful Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten spent a little more than two years living in Chicago, from January 2006 to spring 2008, and when he wasn't on the road--which was most of the time--he fit in well. That is, he played steadily in all kinds of groups, some of them working bands and others one-off ad hoc lineups. Haaker Flaten went back to Oslo after the romantic relationship that brought him to town ended, but his musical relationship with Chicago had started long before he moved here and continues to this day. Tomorrow he returns for the first of a slew of gigs that run through Sunday.

Since his departure Haaker Flaten has released music pretty steadily, beginning with The Year of the Boar (Jazzland), from the quintet he formed with Chicagoans Jeff Parker, Frank Rosaly, and Dave Rempis--the fifth member, violinist Ola Kvernberg, was a holdover from the Oslo version of the group. Cut live during a European tour in 2007, it makes clear that Haaker Flaten shares a key quality with his Chicago counterparts--driving, insatiable energy. His compositions are typically packed with two or three discrete episodes, and most of the time he opts for muscular passages that stomp rather than swing--though his occasional explorations of space and calm, like a bit in "90/94" where Parker toys with texture and color, are satisfying too.

On Play Complete Communion (Bolage) Haaker Flaten joins saxophonist Atle Nymo and drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen (both of whom are members of the excellent quintet Motif) to perform the two suites that make up the classic Don Cherry album (you guessed it) Complete Communion. Nymo does a fine job tracing the trumpeter's indelible themes, which are meticulously crafted vehicles for improvisation. The trio don't veer too far from the originals--you can hear their reverence for the material--but it still makes for an enjoyable listen.

Trinity is, oddly enough, a quartet with Haaker Flaten on bass, but this band traverses much different territory. Breaking the Mold (Clean Feed), recorded live at the Molde Jazz Festival in 2006, is an all-improvised set that mixes spacey contemplation with emotionally charged outbursts. Saxophonist Kjetil Møster (the Core) can blow free with the best of them, but he exercises a lot of restraint here, creating ambience at least as often as he knocks down walls. Drummer Thomas Strønen (Humcrush) has great timing, but he's generally more interested in color, and he frequently turns to hydroplaning cymbal bowing or gentle pattering instead of steady timekeeping. Keyboardist Morten Qvenild (In the Country) might be the driving force by default--it's his electronic keyboard that tends to determine whether the music switches into celestial mode or stays rooted in hard-charging fusion.

Finally, Haaker Flaten has released a couple of fine duo recordings. The Brewery Tap (Smalltown Superjazz) pairs him with legendary free-jazz saxophonist Evan Parker, who plays tenor for the session; though there are highly charged, frenetic passages, with the reedist blowing choked, gnarled lines and the bassist uncorking tightly bunched pointillistic patterns, the duo frequently engage in more spacious, temperate exchanges. It's always hard to resist Parker's trademark circular-breathing displays, but it's really nice to hear him shape his probing lines in a more gentle, patient fashion.

The Haaker Flaten recording I've enjoyed the most over the past year--discounting the latest set from the quintet Atomic--is Elise (Hemlandssånger Compunctio), a duo recording with saxophonist Håkon Kornstad. The Elise of the title was the bassist's grandmother, whose interpretations of folk hymns from the early-19th-century Haugian Revival were recorded by Norwegian National Radio in the 70s. The lyrics came from church hymnals as well books like Vægteren, a volume published in Minneapolis by a Norwegian Haugian community, but the melodies are rooted from oral folk traditions. The album opens with a brief a cappella recording by Elise Haaker, the only song with any vocals at all; six of the eight remaining tracks are instrumental adaptations of these hymns, in which the duo tease out the gorgeous melodies and reshape them gently to fit jazz language. There's also one free improvisation and a lovely reading of Keith Jarrett's "Death and the Flower." The depth of feeling and degree of sensitivity here reminds me of Ornette Coleman's beautiful duo recordings with bassist Charlie Haden, even though the music sounds totally different.

On Wednesday at the Hideout Haaker Flaten will play duets with trombonist Jeb Bishop, then a quartet set with Bishop, resourceful trumpeter (and former Chicagoan) Jacob Wick, and drummer Rosaly. On Thursday he turns up at Elastic for two sets--one with reedist Rempis and pianist Jim Baker and another with keyboardist Paul Giallorenzo and drummer Tim Daisy (plus a cameo from reedist Mars Williams). On Friday night he plays at the Charleston with Giallorenzo, Bishop, and Daisy. On Saturday he heads over to the Hideout to play in a quartet with Baker, drummer John Herndon, and guitarist Parker. And he closes out this stay on Sunday with two sets by the Outskirts--a trio with Rempis and Rosaly--at the Hungry Brain.

Today's playlist:

The Voices of Panola Co., Mississippi, Como Now (Daptone)
Briggan Krauss' H-Alpha, Red Sphere (Skirl)
Lily Allen, It's Not Me, It's You (Capitol)
Dan Tyminski, Wheels (Rounder)
Toshi Ichiyanagi, Electronic Field (Omega Point)

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