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Nils Petter Molvaer


Being a long time fan of ECM records (with their motto, "the most beautiful sound next to silence"), in 1998 I blindly picked up a Nils Petter Molvaer release on that label, Khmer, and was blown away. Here was music that incorporated the lush ECM aesthetic, as applied to some of my favorite jazz (early Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek, Jack Dejohnette), flavored with the more interesting electronic noises in the air at the time. It also added a dash of the Mid-eastern-style sounds that made Zeppelin's "Kashmir" so powerful and evocative. Throw in a guitarist--Eivind Aarset--who seemed the love child of Hendrix and Bill Frisell, and I was hooked. Khmer also included a second disc, an EP of remixes, something that would have been revolutionary in a pop record at the time let alone a jazz outing. The ECM follow-up, 2001's Solid Ether, was, er, solid; not as groundbreaking as Khmer but a thoroughly enjoyable listen nonetheless.

Then Molvaer split with ECM and effectively disappeared from America. Never big enough to tour here, he put out two releases in Europe and became a major attraction, embraced by DJs and more open-minded jazz lovers alike. The music having finally caught up with Molvaer on this side of the pond, the adventurous jazz label Thirsty Ear has seen fit to issue a compilation of studio tracks from his foreign releases, Er and NP3, as well as live cuts and remixes.

They have chosen well. The live version of Solid Ether's title cut amply advertises that this is indeed brilliantly improvised music (let Wynton debate whether it is jazz). Live drums dance around laptop beats; Aarset cuts loose with a solo that is equal parts noise, snake charmer, and rock, followed by Molvaer's processed trumpet. The Norwegian launches a one-note study in rhythm that evolves into an electronically harmonized horn simultaneously evoking Miles and John Hassell.


One admirable thing about Scandinavian musicians is their complete disregard of musical boundaries. Nils and cohorts are equally comfortable with pretty and ugly, consonant and dissonant. They think nothing of turning on a dime from almost smooth jazz grooves, to churning atmospheres, to squawking noise. As gorgeous as this sound can be, it is far from comfort food. It is nu-jazz; it is where Miles was heading, and where Europe has been for quite a while now. It is time for America to join the party. • Michael Ross

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