The young Norwegian saxophone player Håkon Kornstad has just released his second solo album Dwell Time. Without delay jazz critics around the world have recognized it as a unique record; a masterpiece where the hugely accomplished and versatile jazz man Kornstad single- handily creates a magnificently rich musical texture; orchestral in sound, contemplative in emotion. Dwell Time is a musical leap, and a personal one for Kornstad.
-I tend to jump into things in life, quite unprepared, says Håkon Kornstad. I like the idea of simply starting something without much prior knowledge or preparation and then eventually finding myself completely immersed; letting the process itself take me deep into the subject matter.
Kornstad has often been described as an intrepid musician; one who does not shun extremities and who consistently takes his saxophone to new places in the landscape of sound.
Although not conscious of any such feeling of fearlessness, Kornstad agrees that there is an element of it in his approach.
-I often think my way of working as a stream of consciousness where things lead to one another and overlap in a horizontal way. Of course this presupposes a kind of confidence that you will get somewhere, and that things will work out to the best, even if you don’t guide and control your processes too much.
Dwell Time is a solo record in the true sense of the word. Not only was Kornstad the only musician, he also produced the record. Moreover the material was improvised there and then, in the special atmosphere of Sofienberg church in Oslo.
-Naturally it was something of a gamble to rely only on myself and the sax alone for an entire record. But when I improvise I usually have an inner sense that I am on the right track. When I play I tend to hear a whole band in my head, and maybe that is what allowed my playing on this record to be fluid and open with a lot of silence; more accessible than if I had been focusing on filling in all the sonic spaces. I believe that when I play well in this mode the listener will fill in the gaps and hum along with the music the way I do myself.
Kornstad describes Dwell Time as the most emotionally charged record he has made:
-It is an important record to me personally in the sense that I had decided beforehand to do as much as possible myself. It was challenging and even a little frightening, but I think Dwell Time displays the core of my musicality. It is partially based on some themes I have been playing live; things that I wanted to capture on record in the special and solitary setting of the church room. I had some sketches, but in the end I ended up improvising everything. Even though I experienced some mixed emotions about having no one else to rely on, actually standing there alone felt very good.
Kornstad relates that the sessions also included a day of recording with the eminent guitarist Knut Reiersrud, but that he was unable to fit what they did together into the format of the finished record.
I loved the music we made that day, but I simply couldn’t find a way to interlace it with the rest. I had to kill many darlings, and sowing it all together was perhaps the hardest part.
Even if Dwell Time is a simple and clean-cut record in terms of its production and for the fact that Kornstad was consciously pursuing a single and homogenous kind of mood, the music itself is complex he insists:
-In a way it sums up all my musical experience and research. My overarching notion was to let all my knowledge come to expression in melodies and accessible structures. Like I said, when I play solo my objective is to make music that comes across as sonically complete, even if it is only a solitary sax you are hearing. I use the sax as a sampler, with only one loop machine. There are no effects, and very little port-production on Dwell Time. In general I always try to explore the full sonic potential of the instrument itself, and interweave the different musical perspectives that I have acquired over the years into a single fabric. Jazz to me is all about unexpected combinations and juxtapositions.
As one of the most innovative musicians of the new Norwegian jazz scene, Kornstad has been a key part of many celebrated constellations and projects. His own Håkon Kornstad Trio and the band Wibutee are two such, not to mention the duo project with pianist Håvard Wik. A sought-after collaborator with a famed ability to push the sonic potential of the saxophone to its limits, Kornstad has contributed his musical signature to a large number of records. Yet emphasis has been on the club-like and urban concepts of jazz, he reflects.
-Dwell Time is an exploration of the other extremity, says Kornstad. The one dominant mood and the open silence of this record makes it a kind of reflection where the sum of my musicality is condensed and summed up in a kind of solitary essence. Both musically and existentially it is a contrast that felt necessary.
However, it is not a question of a linear development that has taken Kornstad to a contemplative phase.
-I think it is more a matter of a pendulum swinging, says Kornstad. The next record will be more club-like and pulsating; inspired by my time and experiences living in New York.
In 2009 Kornstad has divided his time Between Oslo and New York City, where he has soaked up impressions and played with a lot of different people. He has also spent a lot of time just taking in the visual intensity of the metropolis.
-I think it is very interesting how a certain image can pop out of the sheer onslaught of impressions, he says. That moment is also what I am after in music, when you stop thinking and kind of float away from yourself and into the perception.
Kornstad, who also paints and does visual design, notably record covers, relates that his sense of form is the same regardless of the medium.
-It is the same centre in my brain that is active I imagine, because the sense of composition is very similar. However, there is a great contrast on the temporal plane. Musically I mostly think and work in real time, while visually I am more patient.
Kornstad says he gets inspiration from all sorts of things. -Lately I have become very fascinated classical singing; some days I sing more than I play the sax. And I guess I have changed my perspective regarding traditions and strict musical frameworks, like in opera, which basically hasn’t changed for hundreds of years. I realize that there is a lot of freedom inherent in rules, even if this notion is vehemently opposed in modern jazz. Again I am attracted to contrasts.
Which means that on his next record he wants a producer:
-Some of the material has already been recorded actually. So now the task is to develop more music on the basis of that. I imagine there will be more electronic elements and beats –less looping and more of the acoustic saxophone– and I will use a producer!
Nowadays it is my solo work that takes up most of my time, says Kornstad; that is what I think about. But of course I still do a lot of other stuff, as I always have.
Wibutee, the internationally successful jazz group that Kornstad founded back in his days of studying at the Conservatoire in Trondheim, are in a research phase he relates, which will probably culminate in a recording session within six months or so. And his duo project with bass player Ingebrigt Håker Flaten is also ready for the studio soon.
-It’s old religious Hymns that Ingebrigt has inherited from his grandmother from Oppdal. We make improvisations of the hymns.
Contrasts indeed, are apparently the key word in Håkon Kornstad’s artistic universe, moving has he does, between dwell time and urban pulse; the night club and the church, sonic breakthroughs and age-old hymns, singing and saxing, music and painting, Oslo and New York. One thing is certain, Kornstad is self-reliant in the true sense of the word: he jumps into it, and most of the time it turns out really well, because he believes it will. According to critics, he is the jazz solo artist par excellence.
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Håkon Kornstad on Spotify