For the Hedvig Mollestad Trio, music makes great scenery

The Norwegian guitarist says landscapes make lasting impressions on her and affect the music she makes with her trio
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Although the Hedvig Mollestad Trio employs both the bare-bones instrumentation and the cranked amplifiers of a classic power trio, its sound is far from simple. On its 2013 release All of Them Witches, the group paints things as black as Ozzy Osbourne’s legendary bat one moment before turning fusion scarlet the next. New record Enfant Terrible adds to the mix with enigmatic harmonies that betray the influence of both contemporary composed music and the most avant forms of avant-garde jazz.

If you’re listening to the music only to pick it apart, the guitarist known to her parents as Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen thinks you’re listening wrong. What she wants, she says, is for you to hear where she’s coming from—and that’s no metaphorical concept.

“I come from a place on the west coast of Norway, a little up north,” she tells the Straight in a Skype conversation from Oslo, where she now lives. “And I think it can be difficult to put too much specific meaning into music, because it is so many things to so many different people, and I think it should be. But for me, one of the most powerful things it can be is great scenery. Scenery and landscapes—whether Norwegian, or seen from an airplane, or from places we visit—definitely are making impressions on me as a person, and thereby I think about them when I make something that is supposed to taste of me, if I can say that.

“Both me and the drummer, we are from the coast, and we agree that we could never live in a place where we couldn’t see the ocean,” she continues. “But our bassist, she’s from inside the country, from a valley, and every time we drive there me and the drummer are shaking our heads. Like, ‘Why do you want to live here?’ And she’s like, ‘This is the most beautiful place, here in the mountains. You can see the stars so well.’ So we have an ongoing dispute on that, what is the most beautiful scenery.”

Tour-van arguments aside, Mollestad, bassist Ellen Brekken, and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad share a singular musical purpose: to make music that is both fierce, in the best rock-band sense, and sophisticated. Although Mollestad’s gritty sound has more to do with, say, Queens of the Stone Age than her fellow TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival stars Bill Frisell and John Scofield, she is a trained musician. But she doesn’t stress that overmuch; even if she describes her first two years at music school as “bebop hell”, she contends that the Norwegian approach to jazz pedagogy focuses more on finding an original voice than on mastering every scale in every key.

“Now, when I listen to music—whether it’s to myself rehearsing, or to a concert, or to a student—I think, ‘Is this music alive?’ And if I can answer yes to that, then I get interested in why it is alive,” she says. “What are the elements that make me feel ‘Yes, this music is honest to me; it’s not trying to be something that it’s not.’ And in that sense everything is allowed.

“You should just try to play everything when it comes to you, and don’t try to do the things you did yesterday or play like your heroes,” she adds. “But at the same time those are the strongest memories that you’ve got—your biggest heroes, and what you did yesterday. So it’s kind of a balance: you have to be true to what you know and what you love, but at the same time you must release yourself from it if you are going to create music that is new.”

This requires discipline, to be sure—but at only 32, Mollestad has already mastered that part of her craft.

The Hedvig Mollestad Trio plays a free outdoor show at the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival’s Georgia Stage at 5:15 p.m. on Sunday (June 22).

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