Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Black Stabat Matar
Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Evil in Oslo
It would be overstating it to say that Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen is re-inventing the power trio genre, but the Norwegian jazz-rock guitarist is sure as hell reinvigorating it. In her hands, the form feels newly minted, especially when it roars with the kind of volcanic force it does on these releases. A key reason why she sounds so good is the involvement of bass player Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad, with whom she's been playing since 2009. They refined their rapport on three earlier albums—Shoot! (2011), All of Them Witches (2013), and Enfant Terrible (2014)—and consequently now find themselves operating at an amazingly high level of telepathy and synchronicity.
Thomassen is as comfortable unleashing headbanging riffs as those of a jazzier nature (she did, after all, receive the Jazz Talent of the Year Award at the Molde International Jazz Festival in 2009), and the recordings are all the better for it. This is a band that operates best live and it therefore makes sense that while Black Stabat Matar is formally speaking a studio recording, the band cut the instrumentals live with only minor tweaking added later. On the fourteen-minute opener “Approaching-On Arrival,” the trio lunges from the gate with a blues-rock attack that calls to mind Jeff Beck's “Freeway Jam,” Brekken and Bjørnstad laying down a controlled yet muscular base that the leader strafes with raw salvos of metallic fire. On this lengthy scene-setter, Thomassen tackles with equal conviction intricate prog-like patterns, dissonant atmospherics, and serious howl, and as the music advances, one could be forgiven for thinking of Hendrix, Mountain's Leslie West, Robin Trower, and Led Zeppelin (something like “Achilles' Last Stand”). Tailor-made to satisfy headbangers and prog fans alike, “In the Court of the Trolls” lays out a lethal theme that serves as a springboard for Thomassen's soaring sting and flights of fancy. Arriving as they do after such furious heaviosity, the delicate strums within the mood setting “40” initially startle before the listener adjusts to the downturn in temperature.
Recorded at the Oslo clubs John Dee and Buckley's at two 2015 dates, the double-LP live set is the more hardcore of the releases and is perhaps best broached after Black Stabat Mater. On Evil In Oslo, the tracks, all taken from the band's first three studio albums, are presented in medley-like form, the trio playing without interruption for fourteen- to nineteen-minute lengths at a time. On these sides, the group switches gears with incredible ease, segueing from one episode to another without pause. Brekken and Bjørnstad show themselves once again to be invaluable contributors, capable of stepping into the spotlight at strategic moments but equally committed to laying down a solid support for the guitarist's musings, a case in point the abandon with which the bassist and drummer play behind the leader during side four's incendiary “Laughing John.” They certainly waste no time getting down to business. After a molten intro, the three dig into side one's “For the Air” and “Ashes” with demonic fervour. The leader's Hendrixian side then moves to the fore during a heavy wah-wah episode in “Code of Hammurabi,” after which Thomassen seemingly channels Bill Frisell's “Strange Meeting” for the subdued “The Valley.” Interestingly, though their identities might differ in terms of sound and style, she is often as versatile on this set as her American counterpart.
Yes, there's shredding aplenty, but jazz-tinged passages and textural explorations surface, too. The group commands the listener's attention from the first side to the fourth—no small accomplishment when what we're talking about is bare-bones guitar trio instrumentals. That the material is so engaging testifies to the outfit's endlessly imaginative attack and the music's expansive range.