The Norwegian Hubro Label Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary

THubro_logo_light-greenhe Norwegian label Hubro celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.  It’s a small independent label that has become one of the most interesting in Europe through its championing of all the fascinating and varied music that is coming out of Norway.   The most notable characteristic of this music and particularly of that recorded on the Hubro label, is that it does not fit into one category.  It is the music of blurred genres, so that we have, for example, an artist noted for his folk music such as Nils Økland collaborating with experimental musicians, or bands such as Exoterm adding strong elements of rock and free improvisation into a jazz approach.  This is clearly a feature of the contemporary Norwegian music scene, but increasingly it is a more general feature of music making throughout creative circles in Europe.

Every so often a package arrives from Norway with a number of the latest releases.  They are beautifully packaged and accompanied by a press release outlining the key points of each release. One attractive feature, at least for me, is that the CDs are relatively short with about 35 to 40 minutes of music in each Cd, in other words about the length of a vinyl album.  I find this healthy as I still, in my perhaps old-fashioned way, like to sit down and listen to an album in one go, thinking about it as I listen.    The Cds that have up to or over 70 minutes of music make that much more difficult.

Four Cds arrived recently and I will comment on each one briefly. They are excellent examples of the variety mentioned above.  Some are rooted in jazz, but draw on rock and trash metal, while other are based in folk, but combine it with aspects of experimental rock.


umbraThis is a fascinating album combining the essentially folk sound of Nils Økland’s Hardanger fiddle and violin with that of two experimental rock musicians, Per Steinar Lie on guitars and Ørjan Haaland on drums.  It’s their second album, the first having come out on ECM five years ago.  There are nine tracks varying in length nearly 7 minutes to shorter tracks of just over 2 minutes.  Each tune has its own character from the gentle hynoptic feel of the opening track Inngang to the rock feel of the third track Droneslag that has the fiddle improvising over the driving rhythms of the guitar and drums. The notes suggest that ‘ there might be a bit of Sonic Youth in there, along with Joy Division, John Calle, Arvo Pärt, Dick Dale, Lamonte Young, Paganini …, but it doesn’t really intrude: Lumen Drones play Lumen Drones music’.  It is also intriguing to hear how the Hardanger fiddle, usually associated with folk and classical music, sounds at home with the jazz, rock and contemporary classical sounds of the trio.


Exoterm is a Norwegian American quartet led by bass player Rune Nergaard and featuring Norwegian saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts, plus guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Jim Black from the USA.  The album was recorded in Brooklyn and has six tracks.  It is an extremely powerful and occasionally overwhelming album that is full of very intense improvisation, but also adds some gentler more ambient passages.   The notes quotes Nergaard talking of each member of the trio’s love of jazz, rock and improvised music, but that’ in this band every rule and musical boundary is torn down and we combine our musical influences in one big gumbo of sound’ 


This is essentially a duo album the mood of which is one of melancholy triggered by Ólaffson’s sadness at the death of Johann Johannson just before the recording of the album.  Ólaffson had often worked with Johannson and was understandably shocked by his unexpected death.  The music is based on a process whereby the songs are initially created through improvisation and then treated sonically often with overdubs.  The sound is thus ambiently-inclined, but with layers of electronics added.  Track 2 Atomised/All We’ve Got is a good example; on this Ólaffson plays percussion and electronics gradually building up the layers of sound over Myhre’s bass.  On three tracks the duo is joined by a small section of trumpet and trombone doubling tuba adding an extra melancholy texture.


SkarboThis is a septet led by Óvind Skarbó on drums, percussion, vibes and banjo.  The music is the most eclectic of the four albums reviewed here.  The notes state that ‘Óvind Skarbó doesn’t just think outside the box.  With this drummer/composer there is no box.’  There are nine tracks that include vocals accompanied by banjo, a steel guitar solo and a final more in-your-face track.  It’s all very approachable and good fun.

The Hubro label is celebrating its anniversary with a number of showcases round Europe: October 31st October Lantaren Venster, Rotterdam; Spice of Life London 3rd November; La Dynamo, Pantin, France 4th November and Auster Club, Berlin 5th November.



Mary Halvorson & John Dieterich: A Tangle of Stars

tangle_digital_cover_3000px_screen+(1)At the recent excellent Jazzlines concert with Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl at the CBSO Centre, Birmingham I was fortunate to obtain a copy of Mary’s forthcoming duo album with John Dieterich, the guitarist with the Deerhof band.  It’s essentially a set of guitar duos, but Dieterich does also play on drums and synths.  It’s a fascinating album the music of which goes in all sorts of tricky and quirky directions, and draws on many different styles.

The collaboration between these guitarists seems to be a natural outcome for two musicians whose music defies categorization.  Mary Halvorson in her Code Girl project draws on jazz, art rock and singer songwriter material; she says of her music ‘ So I think if it would have to be put in a category, I probably would consider it jazz. But at the same time that might not be true in ten years. I’m not interested in being a “jazz musician,” I’m just interested in doing whatever music I feel is relevant and exciting.’ (   John Dietrich’s band Deerhof is also noted for a blurring of different genres, particularly post-punk, rock and improv.  One article (Portland Mercury, 2017, quoted in Wikipedia) describes their music as ‘experimental pop mired in a pure sense of adventure’  I have noticed that it is a band that many jazz followers seem to like.mary+and+john

It also helps that Mary and John know each other quite well, and have a high respect for each other’s music.

The album is entitled Mary Halvorson & John Dieterich: A Tangle of Stars and it’s on the New Amsterdam label.  There are twelve tracks, five written by Mary and five by John, one jointly created and one very short opening track from the archive of John Donald Robb.  John’s tunes are quite rocky, often quite staccato in their lines. Some of Mary’s tunes have a rolling bouncy feel with the eclecticism we associate with her compositions, while others of hers have a more atmospheric sound culminating in the very complex, slightly weird Track 9 the handsome. I suspect that Track 11, better than the most amazing game, which is attributed to both players is totally improvised.  Throughout however, whatever the vibe of a particular track, something surprising always seems to happen to subvert the mood.

It is difficult to capture in words what is going on in the various tracks, but it is definitely an album to listen to in one straight through go, enjoying the way the mood changes from track to track. Some tracks are lively and upbeat, others are dark and brooding, all of them are highly rhythmic.  It is also difficult to work out when they are playing the composition and when they are improvising, always a good sign of good challenging music.  John Dieterich captures the essence of the music when he says ‘the album is tangled, full of little strange musical nooks and crannies that may or may not lead somewhere’. (

The album is to be released on October 25th and will be launched at Roulette in Brooklyn New York on October 28th.

Three British Albums Reviewed in Downbeat

It was extremely pleasing to see three important albums by UK bands reviewed in the October edition of the American music magazine Downbeat.  The albums are Shifa Live At Café Oto, Laura Jurd’s Stepping Back, Jumping In and Rebecca Nash’s Atlas’ Peaceful King. 

SHIFAThe Shifa album receives a 4 Star review (4 Star means Excellent), and it describes the music as ‘an uncompromising and uncharted plunge’.  It singles out particular praise for the playing of saxophonist Rachel Musson describing her playing as ‘commanding a bold, granitic timbre’. It goes on to state that Rachel is ‘better known in Europe than in the States’ and that ‘she’s a force deserving of greater recognition’.

Stepping backThe Laura Jurd and Rebecca Nash albums receive 3 Star reviews (3 Star means Good).  Laura Jurd’s playing is described as having ‘a profundity neatly paired with a keen sense of humor’ and the music is seen as having ‘an overall playfulness and a totally relaxing mood’.


rebecca-nash-atlasThe review of the Atlas album praises its musicality and states that ‘the eight tracks form a holistic argument that Nash and her superb band are at the vanguard of innovative and compelling new music’.

One important aspect of this feature on three British bands and their most recent albums is that it shows an appreciation of the range of the contemporary scene here and all the great music emerging from the difficult to define area around free music and post-free music.  Downbeat has quite rightly focussed on the young London scene and bands such as Sons Of Kemet, Nerijah and players such as Nubya Garcia, Shabaka Hutchings, Theon Cross and others.  Absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I am happy to see a recognition that there is much more to the UK scene.

I can’t resist the temptation to point out that two of the bands reviewed have strong Birmingham links.  Atlas is in fact a Birmingham band with all the members except Sara Colman based in the city, and even Sara was based here for many years.  Shifa has Mark Sanders who is based in Bearwood, in an area a few yards outside the Birmingham boundary, and the band was launched in Birmingham at mac’s Hexagon Theatre in March 2018.

The Shifa album is on the New York 577 Records, the Atlas album is on the British Whirlwind Records   and the Laura Jurd Ensemble album is on Edition Records, also British.

Kaja Draksler Petter Eldh and Christian Lillinger Play mac Birmingham on October 1st

Together Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, Swedish bass player Petter Eldh and German drummer Christian Lillinger are Punkt.Vrt.Plastik, an amazing trio which first came together at the legendary Bimhuis Club in Amsterdam as part of the October Meeting in 2016, a kind of summit for European improvisers.  Their set there was totally improvised and was the major highlight of the weekend.

PunktVrtPlastikSince then they have recorded an album for the Swiss Intakt label; this is built round nine attractive tunes, each one composed by one of the trio.  These tunes are the launching pad for some wonderfully interactive music.  It’s intense and there is constant movement between the composed passages and the improvisation, but, above all, it is extremely rhythmic.  In the excellent liner notes Petter Eldh states ‘the approach to rhythm Christian and I have is different in many ways and I think we have created this volatile way of dealing with it’  He adds ‘Kaja’s playing is adding a very powerful layer to what’s happening in the rhythm section… I think it’s important to understand that the three of us have a very strong rhythmical core and we rely on that backbone’.

Each member of the trio is a leading figure in European jazz and the Punkt.Vrt.Plastik trio captures something of the personality of each player. Kaja Draksler brings wonderfully intricate melodies in her improvisations, Petter Eldh brings a tremendous power and energy, and Christian Lillinger provides excitement and drama through his constantly shifting rhythmic patterns.

The name of the band is derived from the nationalities of the players; Punkt is Swedish and means ‘point of view’, Vrt is Slovenian and means ‘garden’, and Plastik is the German spelling of ‘plastic’.

The Birmingham date – October 1st – is the first of an 8-date tour throughout Europe; they play The Vortex London on 2nd October.

Tickets for the Birmingham date can be booked at

A Review of the Punkt Festival in Kristiansand Norway

This was the 15th edition of the Punkt Festival, but my first experience of this unique festival.  The invitation to attend came as part of an expansion of the festival, both in the range of music presented and the number of venues, and as part of its international focus and presentation of partner Punkt festivals in different cities round the world.  This year the music took in a range of genres, including what we might call ‘chamber improv’, ambient music, experimental rock and a concerto for the Japanese shamisen instrument and full orchestra, and however we define the music of the Swedish piano trio Rymden (Scandinavian jazz?).  But, as is probably well known, the core of the festival is the Live Remix, the immediate follow up of a particular concert with the use of samples of that concert to create a new piece of music.

This year the festival used a number of different venues.  The festival clearly has as a defining feature a willingness to present a wide range of music and a lack of interest in genre labels.  However, the programme with its range of available venues had this year a policy of putting particular types of music into the venue most suited to it.  Thus what I have called ‘chamber improv’ was presented in a black box venue in SØlander Art Museum, the ‘ambient music’ sets were in the Domkirken, the Cathedral, the ‘experimental rock’ was in the Kick Scene club and the final evening with the orchestral piece, Rymden and Kim Myhr’s guitar and percussion based piece took place in Kilden, the relatively new concert hall.

The festival thus seems to have an openness to different genres and an acceptance of their differences rather than a rejection of genre labels.   It brings these genres together and shows how they overlap through the use of the Live Remix.

There were many highlights in the concert programme; on the first evening vocalist Sidsel Endresen interacted with the violin and double bass duo Vilde and Inga, five members of the Ensemble Modern interacted with festival co-director Jan Bang on laptop.  The highlight of the evening, however, was the set with Samuel Rohrer’s Dark Star Safari that featured Jan Bang’s vocals with their attractive, rather melancholy feel.    On Day 2 in the Cathedral we had a stunning solo set from Ståle Storløkken on the cathedral organ and a beautiful, if slightly overlong, vocal composition performed by the Trondheim Voices.

stale Solokken
Ståle Storløkken photo by Petter Sandell

In the Kick Scene club we had two powerful and loud sets of experimental rock, the first from the young Drongo group from Kristiansand, a band with three keyboards, two guitars, electric bass and drums, and the second from the Thurston Moore Group.   The latter set was very structured with a series of transitions from one passage to another signalled by Moore with the other members of the group poised waiting for the cue.

Thurston Moore Group
Thurston Moore Group photo by Petter Sandell

In the Kilden concert hall the concerto for the Japanese shamisen instrument composed by Dai Fujikura and performed by Hidejiro Honjoh and the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra was a little underwhelming with the shamisen, a three stringed guitar/banjo type instrument, perhaps lacking the breadth of sound needed to match the orchestral writing.  Kim Myhr’s You | Me group with four guitars, all doubling acoustic and electric guitars, and three percussionists created wonderful layers of music, repetitive but powerful enough to resist the ‘minimalist’ label.  Finally, the set by Rymden, the Swedish trio with Bugge Wesseltoft, Dan Berglund and Magnus ÖstrÖm was the one that came closest to a jazz approach based on tunes, all announced, and all featuring solos from the members of the group.

The Live Remixes took place immediately after the main concert and on the same stage.  The festival directors, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, led three of the six remixes, either individually or working with other musicians, and the other three involved invited individuals or groups.  I enjoyed all the Live Remix sets, but was unsure about the focus of these sets.  Some built an intriguing set of music that referred to aspects of the concert sampled to create a fascinatingly coherent version of that concert.  The Remix by Jan Bang and Erik Honoré with Arve Henriksen and Eivind Aarset that drew both on the organ set by Ståle SorlØkken and that of the Trondheim Voices is a case in point, producing what was for me some of the most beautiful music heard during the festival.  The Remix of the shamisen concerto by Jan Bang and featuring Sidsel Endresen was less obviously linked to the concert, but nonetheless created a set of music that reflected the original.  Also less obviously linked, at least in my ears, were the remixes of the Drongo set by Simen Løvgren, that of the Thurston Moore set by the Supersilent trio, and that of the Kim Myhr set by Pål- Kåres Elektroshop.  Each of these remixes presented interesting electronic music that was successful in its own right and certainly captured the spirit of the original.  But I was left wondering what the parameters of the Live Remix are.  How far should they draw on the original?  Is it sufficient to create something original that does no more than reflect the vibe of the original?

A couple of observations: I found Fiona Talkington’s introductions very informative, especially those on the first day when she conducted a brief Q&A with the musicians.  Secondly, the festival was dominated by guitars, keyboard and drums.  Not one group had a saxophone!

The Birmingham Punkt Festival with the two co-directors, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré and a mix of British and Norwegian musicians will take place at Birmingham City University from 18th to 20th March.

The photographs above were taken by Petter Sandell

A Comparison Between Louis Moholo Moholo’s Spirits Rejoice and The Five Blokes Band

Last week I was delighted to be able to buy Spirits Rejoice!, the 1978 recording by the Louis Moholo Octet on the Ogun label, now reissued on Otoroku, the Café Oto label, to coincide with the two-day residency of Louis Moholo-Moholo’s Five Blokes (perhaps not the best name for a band in these Key Change days!).

Louis MoholoI was there for the first night of the residency and loved the energy and the sheer joy of the quintet.  It seems to be directed by Alex Hawkins at the piano strongly supported by John Edwards on the double bass and the intricate patterns woven by Moholo at the drums.  The form of the two sets the quintet played was based on seamless moves in and out of the strong South African melodies, and a movement between these melodies and the passionate improvising of the two reed players, Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax and bass clarinet, and Jason Yarde on alto sax.  The interplay between the two was a key part of the wonderful atmosphere created by the band.  As I recall, the band played in both sets one long passage including various tunes interwoven with the improvisation before pausing and concluding the set with one or two shorter passages.

It was fascinating then to sit down and listen several times over the weekend to the Spirits Rejoice! LP and compare the music of the Octet with that of the Five Blokes band.  Of course, the Octet is a different and larger band with two bass players –  Johnny Dyani and Harry Miller – and two trombonists –  Nick Evans and Radu Malfatti -, plus Evan Parker on tenor sax, Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, Keith Tippett on piano and Moholo on drums.   The music brings together African melodies and free improvisation in a way that seems entirely natural.  Richard Cook and Brian Morton (1998, p. 1069) note in discussing Moholo’s albums that ‘traditional African musics frequently anticipated the methodologies of free music’; this is certainly borne out on the Spirits Rejoice album.

One notable difference between the Octet album and the live Five Blokes gig is that on the album there is much less movement in and out of the melodies and there is usually a clear delineation between the statement of the melody and the solos.  This is immediately apparent on the first track, Khanya Apho Ukhona (meaning Shine Wherever You Are) where the statement of the theme moves into a long solo by Evan Parker.  Evan is brilliant throughout the album as are Keith Tippett on several tracks and Kenny Wheeler on the Wedding Hymn track.  The track where there is most to and fro between the melody and the improvisation is the second track, Mongezi Feza’s You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me which features the two trombonists.  Interesting that this tune also featured in the Five Blokes set.

alex hawkinsBy contrast, the music of the Five Blokes is much more fluid with the constant movement between the tunes and the improvisation that really keeps the listener anticipating quite rapid changes from one to the other.  The changes seem to be cued either by Hawkins at the piano or by certain drum patterns from Louis Moholo.  All this gives the music a freshness and an excitement that is very special.

It is excellent that the music that developed from the interaction between the South African exiles and the British free players that began in the 1970s lives on despite the loss of so many of the original exiles.  It is such a special blend of musics that adds a wonderful, joyous and heartening sound to the scene.  It is also very encouraging that the scene in South Africa continues to produce lively and distinctive music.  A good example is the young pianist Bokani Dyer who has a different take on the South African tradition; he is establishing a niche for his trio touring in Britain and continental Europe.



Richard Cook and Brian Morton (1998) The Peguin Guide To Jazz On CD  London: Penguin

The Fizzle and TDE Promotions Autumn Programme

This autumn the collaboration between Fizzle run by Andy Woodhead and TDE Promotions run by myself presents one of the best seasons of improvised music and free jazz ever seen in Birmingham.  There are 14 gigs taking in all kinds of experimental music: free jazz, electronics, improvisation to silent film, British and Swedish electro-acoustic music, a residency with the Archipelago group, solo and duo performances through to large ensembles.

The programme has been supported for the third time by an Arts Council England Project Grant and we are very grateful to them for this support.

The programme takes place in three main venues: the regular Fizzle programme takes place at the Lamp Tavern, a lovely intimate pub on the edge of the Digbeth area, and this season they will run on Tuesday evenings and Sunday afternoons, both on a monthly basis.  The TDE Promotions take place in the unique Hexagon Theatre at mac (Midlands Arts Centre, Cannon Hill Park) and also in the Eastside Jazz Club at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.  Other occasional events take place at the Artefact venue in Stirchley – the silent film improvisations – and in the BEAST studio at the Bramall Hall at the University of Birmingham for the electro-acoustic concert.

hannah marshallThe season begins on Tuesday 17th September at the Lamp Tavern with a Fizzle double bill featuring a duo between Andy Woodhead on piano and Hannah Marshall on cello and a quartet featuring four young improvisers: Filippo Radicchi, drums, David Sear, trombone, Alex Astbury, trumpet and bass and Lee Griffiths saxophone.

This is followed by a TDE Promotion on Thursday 1st October in the Hexagon Theatre at mac featuring a piano trio Punkt Vrt Plastik that features three of the most exciting players in Europe: drummer Christian Lillinger, pianist Kaja Draksler and double bass player Petter Eldh.  Tony Dudley-Evans heard the trio at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis venue a few years ago and believes that the trio is the most exciting piano trio anywhere in the world!!christian lillinger

The rest of the programme is:

Sunday 6th October  Lamp Tavern  Treppenwitz and Paul Dunmall Quartet with Phil Gibbs, James Owston and Jim Bashford

Thursday 10th October    Artefact   Silent film improvisations, a collaboration with Flatpack

Tuesday 15th October Lamp Tavern  Toby Delius, Olie Brice, Mark Sanders plus Piera Onacko,  Nathan England-Jones and Lee Griffiths

Thursday 31st October Eastside        Tim Berne residency playing with student groups and in duo  with Liam Noble

Sunday 3rd November Lamp Tavern Archipelago with guests, part of a short residency.

Friday 7th and Saturday 8th

November     BEAST Studio                Swedish and British electro-acoustic music

Tuesday 19th November Lamp          Yvonne Magda, Hannah Marshall, Tina Hitchens, Caitlin Callahan   +  Bruce Coates, Trevor Lines, Ed Gauden

Thursday 21st November Hexagon   Annie Whitehead and Rude 2.0 + Andy Woodhead solo electronics

Wednesday 27th November Eastside Paul Dunmall Quintet The Soultime Suite + Brass Section.

Thursday 5th December   Hexagon     Kit Downes Quartet + Steve Saunders’ Glitch

Sunday 8th December Lamp Tavern    Toshimaru Nakamura + Dave Birchall, Sam Andrae Otto Willburg  + a set by Birmingham Conservatoire students

Tuesday 10th December Hexagon       Raymond Macdonald Gunter ‘Baby’ Sommer Duo. Saxophones + Drums