The Norwegian trumpeter’s first foray into the contemporary mainstream twinned his moody, effects-laden trumpet with repetitive beats and the accents of the Middle East. His clincher album, Khmer, released in 1997, heralded a breakthrough for Scandinavian musicians with club-culture in mind.
Far from mellowing with age – the trumpeter was born in 1960 – he now surrounds his broody sustained notes, computer-enhanced tones and sharp-angled lines with the buzzsaw sounds of hard rock. The plaintive tone and instrumental control remain intact, and non-European inflections are still in the mix, but at this all-standing gig, they were subsumed into a swirling organism of raw tonalities and sustained, deeply-felt emotions.
Molvaer’s current project is a stripped-down trio featuring Stian Westerhus on guitar and drummer Erland Dahlen – he has the same puddingy, deep-toned tuning as the classic rock drummers of the late 1960s. The trio have been on the go for nearly two years now, and have the confidence and understanding that makes a top-class touring band. At this gig, they played only two numbers in a long single set, but each piece was a shape-shifting palette of rage and despair, tranquillity and hope.
The performance began with Molvaer’s plaintive trumpet hovering over droning, fast-strummed guitar and a sporadic thud from the drums. Laptops were tweaked, the pulse firmed up, and a sad cry became a long-sustained gale-force howl. Sharp-edged trumpet stabs echoed round the hall, there were distorted runs and wah-wah rhythms, and then the miasma dispersed to reveal a funereal thump and unadorned trumpet, each mournful, vibrating note clear in every detail. The set progressed through sultry funk and optimistic lines, abstract ballads and hints of dub.
The second, more spacious piece opened with power chords and basic breaks; there followed fragments of scales, snippets of tune and lots of watery guitar. Adding atmosphere, the dark-lit, blue-washed stage reduced the musicians to shadowy shapes, picked up as ghostly reflections flitting sporadically through a monochrome lightshow.
The references were clear – Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew – but these were soon forgotten as the trio sustained each mood to breaking point. The encore, an urgent thrash, was cathartic.