Bobby Bradford/Frode Gjerstad/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Paal Nilssen-Love – Kampen (NoBusiness)
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten New York Quartet – Now Is (Clean Feed)
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten Chicago Sextet – Live at Jazz Festival Saalfelden 2011 (Textite)
Williams/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Tim Daisy – Moments FormMars (Idyllic Noise)
Bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten has, since the mid ‘90s, established himself as one of the bonafide stars on his instrument. One need only look at two of his most compelling collaborations – Scandinavian power trio The Thing and delicate Norwegian sax-bass duo with Håkon Kornstad – to realize he can do it all. In between those two poles are dozens of partnerships, either of long-standing or wonderfully ephemeral, which further demonstrate his range and musical vision. It has helped immensely that his experience is bi-continental: after coming up in Norway and then the larger European scene, he moved to Chicago and immersed himself in that vibrant community and now lives in one of America’s musical centers – Austin, TX.
Three of the four albums under review are live recordings from 2010-12; three of the four are fully improvised; Håker Flaten is matched with longtime partners and new associates under his own name twice and as part of collective groups; Chicago, New York and Europe are represented. All are just slices of Håker Flaten’s oeuvre.
Kampen is the oldest, a November 2010 concert recording from Oslo. Joining Håker Flaten is cornet player Bobby Bradford, saxophonist Frode Gjerstad and fellow Thingee Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. The album opens with a short duet between Bradford and Håker Flaten before Gjerstad and Nilssen-Love skitter in alongside them. Gjerstad’s ear-piercing tone can be trying but it’s leavened by the richer tones of his bandmates. Despite the bassist and drummer’s extensive familiarity with each other, this is a generally balanced and probing improv session, squarely in the low-peaks-and-shallow-valleys school. Håker Flaten and Bradford, born nearly 40 years and 4,500 miles apart , are nicely paired. The proceedings vary whether an improvised moment derives its melodic content from Gjerstad’s freneticism or Bradford’s prodding.
Now Is continues and expands a partnership between Håker Flaten and saxophonist/trumpeter Joe McPhee, heard to great effect on a pair of duo recordings on Not Two and Clean Feed. Joining them are guitarist Joe Morris and trumpeter Nate Wooley for a July 2011 studio recording made right before the same quartet played at The Stone. With the exception of “As If”, the eight NYC-related (in title at least, with nods to some of the metropolitan sports teams, “Rangers” perhaps expressing frustration in a team without a championship in almost 20 years) pieces are spontaneous creations and refreshingly short. There is a nice contrast between the warbly horns and the crisp snap of the strings, no one necessarily pushing to the forefront but no one tentative either. And there are enough snatches of melody and form perhaps to imply some discussion before hand but certainly careful listening throughout. The longest track,the nearly 10-minute “Pent”, introduces a blues sensibility through Håker Flaten’s elephantine walk.
In August 2011, Håker Flaten brought his Chicago Sextet to the Saalfelden Festival in Austria. Players like guitarist Jeff Parker, saxophonist Dave Rempis, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and drummer Frank Rosaly are all veterans of the modern Chicago avantjazz scene; fellow Norwegian, violinist Ole Kvernberg, is the interesting addition for these four Håker Flaten compositions. The textural mix of “Virgoan Ways” recalls gauzier moments of ‘70s fusion, à la Jean-Luc Ponty, with some occasional similarity to the writing, except for sparse, open sections colored by vibraphone declamations. “Rosewood Avenue” slips in via the leader’s electronics and vamps on the simple theme that pokes its head out amid the digitized brambles. “Wells”, another short piece, too has its foundation in electronics but sharply contrasts what preceded it by approximating the frenzy of an air raid. The closing “Irrational Ceremony” returns to the Ponty vibe of the first piece, but now from his King Kong period (no surprise that both bands have very similar instrumentation). HåkerFlaten doesn’t indulge this side of his playing too often- the last time may have been 2005’s Quintet (also with Kvernberg) – which is a shame since he has a unique take on what is otherwise a calcified genre.
The most recent disc is a live trio date from Austria, recorded in March 2012, Håker Flaten one side of an equilateral triangle with Chicagoans Mars Williams(saxophones) and Tim Daisy (drums). Three improvised pieces of descending length make up Moments Form. Williams is a bit of an outlier in improvised circles, with as many credits in avant rock as jazz but he is a forceful member of the Windy City saxophone lineage and the sound of this group is closest to some of The Thing’s earthier moments, buoyed by Håker Flaten’s thick propulsiveness. Speaking of lineage, though a modern session, there are aesthetic allusions to earlier trio dates by the likes of Peter Brötzmann, Albert Ayler and even Sonny Rollins. The nuances of Håker Flaten’s bass are a bit hard to hear when the trio is going full blast, more of a feeling, not unlike Tom Araya on Slayer’s Reign in Blood, but the ear becomes accustomed to filling in the details as the set progresses. Daisy, as was always evident from his work with the Vandermark 5, is as flexible as his bandmates. The middle piece, “Galactic Ballet”, is a masterful example of slow, simmering improvisation, which almost boils over before the heat is turned down at the end.