Year by year, tone by tone, Nils Petter Molvær has built his reputation as one of the most respected jazz trumpeters of the world. When he last week received the Buddy prize, the highest recognition a jazz musician can receive in Norway, Molvær felt that the Norwegian jazz environment finally approved his experimental music.
“For me, it was a great honour to receive the Buddy prize. And it can be interpreted in several ways. I am not playing straightforward jazz. Bugge (Wesseltoft) and me, as well as several others, have been doing this for a while, and it seems like electronic jazz is becoming more acceptable in Norway, which is nice”, says Molvær.
He is down with a cold, but still, he manages to enjoy some time with his family in Oslo between concerts in southern Europe and the States. Still, the last year has been less packed than usual for the busy jazz musician.
“But next year, it will break loose again”, he tells.
Molvær has three new projects on his way. Two albums, one live recording and a new album expected to be released by the fall of 2004. The new album will feature some vocals, but from whom, he cannot disclose yet. On the Solid Ether album, renowned jazz singer Sidsel Endresen borrowed her voice to Molvær’s tunes. He is also collaborating with Magne Furuholmen (A-ha band member) for the Vinternatt festival in February 2004.
How are you and Furuholmen co-operating on this project?
“We are mixing what I am doing and what he is doing – he has lot of great stuff, and we put it together, trying to find interesting contrasts”.
Molvær’s next live gig is in Washington, DC on 11 December. As part of the Norwegian Embassy’s Christmas celebration, Molvær will perform at the Kennedy Center, accompanied by DJ Strangefruit, turntables, Jan Bang, live sampling, Rune Arnesen, drums, Morten Qvenild, piano.
“Eivind Aarset is not in the band any more, and neither is Raymond Pellecier. They have their own carrier to take care of, and our schedules crash all the time. But we have agreed to collaborate later”.
The album “Khmer” (1997) was the great international breakthrough for Molvær. He worked on it for several years, and was relieved when it left his hands and found its way into the music outlets. However, Molvær had never anticipated the enormous success following the release. “Khmer” has now sold more then 100 000 copies worldwide, a towering number for experimental, electronic, mystic jazz.
“Looking retrospective, the album had very good timing, which was totally unconscious from my side. Universal via ECM got me touring in Europe, which brought even more with it”.
On his follow-up recording of “Solid Ether” and “NP3”, Molvær further challenged the boundaries between jazz and electronica.
You now have your own record company, and you don’t have a contract with ECM any more?
“I have a record company called Sula Record. By the way, I think I will call it just Sula, it sounds better. Well, I’m not with ECM any more, and I haven’t been since 1999. For reasons why, I will keep to myself. Universal Norway licensed my last two acts, “NP3” and “Recoloured”, the remix from “Solid Ether”, throughout the world, except from the States, where it is not released yet. I have more control now, but I want even more control. We can already see it now, and within five years, I belive the music business has changed totally. And I think it is important for me and other independent artists to see what is happening, and create a system where you can produce and distribute music despite the unstabile environment within the big record companies, and not be dependent on them”.
With all your success, I assume you make a reasonable living from the trumpet?
“I survive as a jazz musician, but I am not rich, that would be a silly overstatement.
I am touring a lot and some think musicians who tour making tremendous amounts of money. It is expensive to tour with my band, and last year, I lost approximately NOK 300 000 (USD 43 500, € 36 800). It is still noticeable. Compared, a pop musician can promote an album for years without even playing live, if you know what I mean. Jazz musicians need to be on the stages. Bugge Wesseltoft has been touring like crazy, especially in France, and the results are visible now. Just as the brilliant Swedes, Esbjørn Svensson’s Trio, they are all over the place”.
The fortune of mp3
When he was young, Molvær had to give preference to sport as the brass band practise collided with his soccer practise. Fortunately for us, he changed his mind. His father, the clarinettist Jens Arne Molvær, is often mentioned as the reason why Molvær started playing.
His trumpet teacher Oddbjørn Øyen was an important factor during his early years. But the music teacher at Tonheim Folk High School, the deceased Ole Egil Torp, seriously sparked his interests for the trumpet.
Now, in addition to the trumpet, the Mac computer is Molvær’s most important musical tool.
“I can do a lot with the computer; record, pre program, work on delays and filters, let things in and out. I use a program called Logic, and it is great. When I play live, I use a program called Ableton Live. Previously, other people took care of the computerised part while I played, but now, I have started to manage it myself while on stage. It is different than playing live with other people. I just wrap up what I am playing on a file. Technology makes it much easier to participate in a musical context. For instant, Bill Lasswell sent me an e-mail and asked me to play on Gigi and Buckethead’s album. They sent me some mp3 files, which I downloaded on my computer. Then I edited my trumpet to the track, compressed the files, sent it to them and asked ‘is this what you wanted?” If they want something different, I just do another take, and send it back. When we are all satisfied, they can download the file in America, and it sounds like we have been playing together in the studio.
You have once said that DJs are the jazz musicians of our time. What do you think about people who say that DJs are just copying others work, not contributing themselves?
“I totally disagree. Those who argue that, can try to mix two song and see how “easy” it is. Such arguments are expressions of ignorance, even discrimination. My band member Strangefruit is playing everything from Danish yoga records to contemporary accorded music. He is interacting with the music as any other musician and the records are his instruments.
When I use my computer to remix, I use elements from my own music as well as others. A lot of music is sampled these days. If I find a beat I like, I can modify it by using filters, grooves, change the tempo, cutting it up, change the bass drum etc”.
These days, Molvær is listening to everything from Johnny Cash to Carl Craig, underground hip hop, Neil Young, Timbaland and Neptunes, among other things.
“For me, genre is insignificant. I like music and musicians who have something to tell”.