Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Nils Petter Molvaer

  • Solid Ether [ECM, 2001] A
  • NP3 [Universal, 2002] A-
  • An American Compilation [Thirsty Ear, 2006] A-
  • ER [Thirsty Ear, 2006] A-
  • Streamer [Thirsty Ear, 2006] A-
  • Hamada [Sula/Universal, 2009] ***
  • Baboon Moon [Thirsty Ear, 2011] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Solid Ether [ECM, 2001]
The son of a (savor this phrase) local jazz musician from an island off the northwest coast of Norway, Molvaer cut his teeth on electric Miles the way other kids cut theirs on Black Sabbath. On 1998's Khmer, he joined or anticipated Jon Hassell, Tim Hagans, and Graham Haynes (with Bill Laswell the only nontrumpeter) in the growing cadre of syncretic visionaries who set themselves to building something from that idea a quarter century after it was hauled off the jazzsite in black plastic bags. And on this follow-up, he sounds like the best of them. Not alone in connecting Agartha to the turmoil of drum and bass, he has the guts to let the beat take over, and when he goes ambient he looks to Gil Evans for structural reinforcement. He references Don Cherry as well as Jack Johnson. He mixes in dub, vocoder, a borrowed piccolo trumpet, even two discreet poetry readings. He immerses in chaos and comes out beautiful. A

NP3 [Universal, 2002]
More trumpet electronica from Norway, cold as solid ether, but organic unto spring like frost rather than air-conditioned unto laryngitis like a mainframe room. It's cool like itself rather than cool like Miles--true chill-out music. Now he should tell us just what sea the guys on the cover are entering with no clothes on, and when. A-

An American Compilation [Thirsty Ear, 2006]
Molvaer is a Norwegian trumpeter formerly on ECM who during the past decade has proven himself a sonic hipster as unflappable as Miles Davis himself. Peter Gordon's electronica-friendly nu-jazz label, Thirsty Ear, introduces its new prize to his natural audience by bearing down on Molvaer's Europe-only 2002 NP3 and front-loading the title tune of ECM's 2001 release Solid Ether. This overplays Molvaer's interest in power funk and pretty solos, but what the hell--he's always shifting tactics anyway, and there's still atmospheric ambience aplenty. A-

ER [Thirsty Ear, 2006]
On the spookiest of Thirsty Ear's three Molvaer albums, Molvaer's Miles-sans-mute sound--smooth the way strawberry sherbet is smooth--floats through buzzes and washes, squiggles and treated voices, bodied up by bass parts often his own. Not that he's a loner--most tracks feature four to six samplers, programmers, drummers and such. Here's hoping the woman who sings (and wrote) "Only These Things Count" is another respected fellow professional, rather than his girlfriend. Miles reserved his girlfriends for cover shots. A-

Streamer [Thirsty Ear, 2006]
Recorded at a Jan. 1, 2002, Finnish concert where some audience members surely dozed briefly unless the heat was on the fritz, this is pretty lulling for a live album--assuming the ground of your being isn't threatened by guitar blats, jungle beats and noises that poke out of the flow like tree branches and old car parts. It includes five compositions that had just then surfaced on NP3, only here they're gauzier. Due to the spoken-word snatches the trumpeter strews on top, they're also eerier. But not, I promise, scarier. A-

Hamada [Sula/Universal, 2009]
Not Hamada the Japanese folk ceramicist, hamada the rocky desert plateau--only this being Norwegian trumpet, chillier ("Cruel Altitude," "Friction"). ***

Baboon Moon [Thirsty Ear, 2011]
Recorded live in the studio with a worldly-wise drummer and a sonic guitarist who adds some modest Teo Macero moves, this is less techno and dubby than the trumpeter's norm, in its many quieter moments evoking the exotica stylings of Jon Hassell. "Recoil" lifts into a riff-driven guitar workout at track three before the music recedes back into contemplation, with Molvaer varying his embouchure and the drums all demonstrative as the guitar seeks out effects. Then the seven-minute title track goes all in on a crowd-pleasing finale. He's always a little too subtle. But in a way that's always the point. A-

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