Recollections of an Oslo experience

All About Jazz, October 17, 2019

(…)Maybe the most surprising appearance was the bond of composer/multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Maja S.K. Ratkje and guitarist Stian Westerhus with Ratkje on (prepared) harmonium, bells, violin and singing/whistling, Westerhus playing arco and pizzicato on acoustic guitar and singing. They seduced the audience with a highly intimate acoustic performance. The unfolding flow of soulfully gleaming song-lines were permeated by oblique-subtle tonal nuances and roughening percussive interventions. Both developed in dense and continuously tense and evident interplay. They enabled the audience to breath with the flow of their performance thereby kindling immanent cathartic potentials. Especially the returning song “Sayago -such a sliding sound” went under one’s skin. It was a rich and captivating affair of qualities different from those we mainly associate these two outstanding artists with and know from performances. Only after their wonderful performance I learned that they had performed an opus Ratkje had written for the National Ballet as music to Jo Strømgren’s dance piece “Sult”/Hunger” after the well- known Knut Hamsun novel published in 1890. At the festival Ratkje did not play the original pump-organ built/prepared by technicians of the opera house. Instead, she played on a lightly prepared harmonium and Stian Westerhus came into the game. The original instrument can be heard on the album recently released on Rune Grammofon. Although I was not aware of the connection with Hamsun’s “Hunger” during the concert, it could clearly be felt that the music was permeating epochs creating a specific atmosphere of a past time re-imagined. It felt not so much as a genre-defying work but rather as a time transient work that made use of different appropriate means for the specific purpose of the dance piece. It should be clear that the recorded version is a stand-alone piece of work. To allow yourself the freedom of creating a highly cohesive work like this one, is—to put it like this—a quite Norwegian trait of re-creating music and, it should be emphasized, this was an outstanding, moving and transcending case of the unfurling of multifarious high-level artistic abilities that drew from a rich stock of resources. (…)

Henning Bolte

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