Hedvig Mollestad / Trondheim Jazz Orchestra: Maternity Beat Album Review


Hedvig MollestadThe music is like a particularly extravagant geyser that periodically spits when not bubbling below the surface. Her sound is at the heavier end of the metal-jazz continuum, a space the Norwegian guitarist has explored extensively with her. eponymous threesome on seven albums over the past 11 years. maternity beatMollestad’s latest collaboration with Trondheim Jazz Orchestracontinues the narrative experimentation of his recent solo releases Storm Revisited and Ekhidnathis time making motherhood the focus of attention.

Writing and arranging a double album of compositions for the 12 musicians of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, plus Mollestad herself, is a big undertaking, but it’s also ambitious in the range of themes it incorporates: parenthood, the migration crisis world and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. What brings together the different ideas in maternity beat together is, unsurprisingly, motherhood, particularly its connection to emotional states. From there, Mollestad digs deep into his toolbox to find interesting ways to convey his concerns – take the slightly disconnected voices of “Her Own Shape,” a parable of parenthood, or the urgency of the cries of a viewer one-on-one with passive drones on the striking opener “On the Horizon Part 1.” Rather than distil his ideas too neatly, Mollestad leaves them hazy, making his socially engaged themes inextricable from their musical surroundings.

The sound of maternity beat is equally gnarly, exploring dissonance, harsh noise and crunchy grooves across nine action-packed compositions. Mollestad described the creation of the project as “as thrilling as jumping off a cliff”, and the feeling of pushing your toes over the edge is clear from the first listen. In “On the Horizon Part 2,” a multitude of instabilities — uneven meters, belligerent counterpoint, punchy grooves, and overdriven guitar riffs — loosely connect to create a landscape constantly shifting in different directions. Frenetic figures balance on this unstable ground, with the scorched earth improvisations of saxophonist Martin Myhre Olsen and, on “Donna Ovis Peppa”, violinist Adrian Løseth Waade.

Balancing the bloody moments are quieter corners like “Little Lucid Demons,” a quaint study for small ensemble and Laurie Anderson-style automaton vocals; it develops into a luxurious groove with a stretched melody that nods to John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. “Look for the swing, look for the flow, look for the beat, then take it away,” the voices sing in half stereo. But rhythm never totally disappears in Mollestad’s music, which maintains a steady heartbeat even in the tiniest of moments.

Mollestad’s plays fare best when they marry dark and light in a single image, like the bizarre Gothic dirge “Do Re Mi Ma Ma”, with its surreal touches of cartoonish humor, exhalations tired of the whole ensemble and its dense trio improvisations shared between Mollestad, organist Ståle Storløkken and drummer Torstein Lofthus. It is the most vivid of Mollestad’s musical portraits, casting strong colors on its massive canvas; less convincing are the pieces rendered in pastel (“Her Own Shape”) or monochrome (“All Flights Cancelled”, borrowed from the Mollestad trio’s 2021 album Ding Dong you are dead). The immediacy of this latest song — as Mollestad faced the prospect of an international touring season wiped out by COVID-19 — fades as it translates through projects and deadlines.

The album’s two framing tracks, “Maternity Beat” and “Maternity Suite,” come right at the end and travel to the ends of the project. “Maternity Beat” is set in a quiet but eerie space, where Mollestad delivers extended harmonic streaks, awaiting an ensemble respite that only appears in snippets. “Maternity Beat” follows abruptly with chunky rock textures, Mollestad’s throaty solo and general rambunctious cheer, as the band rumbles around busy, boppie lines. Heard as one continuous 19-minute piece, the two songs encapsulate an artist whose most interesting work lies around the edges.

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Henry R. Wright