What are the musicians and the experiences that have influenced you ? Is there any artistic figure or reference especialy important in your career ?
My influences cover most of music history; I would have to mention at least the following areas of artistic gravity in my formative experiences: early blues and jazz; the so called cool jazz and the funky hard bop epochs; several parts of “classical” music history, particularly the French Impressionists and the Eastern European Neo-Classical composers, along with of course Bach; Scandinavian folk music, especially the lullabies and the hymns; and also folk music from other parts of the word, especially Western Africa, Iran, and the Caribbean area.
There is undeniably something contemplative and meditative in your music that is often described in terms of spirituality. What do you think about that ? Can I ask you if spirituality or religion are important in your work or in your life ?
Playing is like praying to me – it is about trying to come close to the centre where things feel essential and intense, and where the paradox between being an active subject and a humble receiver is resolved. I have a strong background in church, both musically and spiritually – and the liberal, humanistic yet liturgically concerned part of the church of Norway continues to be some kind of home for me.
Blues and gospel are obviously present in your music, like some other Norvegian musicians in my opinion - I think of course especialy about Kristin Asbjørnsen, for example. Is there any cultural resonances that could explain this ?
Well, gospel choirs are among the main learning platforms for band musicians and singers in this country, it provides creative environments, warm social settings, and – importantly – places to perform and develop in the first phase an artistic development. Surprisingly many of the best musicians and singers come from this background, as there is a vibrant activity of local choirs around the country.
You realized four records with ECM. Can I ask you how is it to work with Manfred Eicher who has such a strong esthetic identity, especialy concerning piano and piano trio ?
We recorded most of the first album without Manfred – and he came into the process for mixing and selecting tracks. I think this was a very good way to start the cooperation ; we were already going in a certain direction artistically, and produced the initial part of that recording ourselves. But from there onwards, Manfred has been a very fruitful partner in musical dialogue – offering a combination of support and challenge that has helped us develop further and shape each album in a unique way.
What is or are the strongest musical or artistic emotion(s) you have ever felt ?
The feeling of almost mystical unity when you are both inside the music and at the same time shaping it and controlling it from a distance – where you are both intensely here and now, and still perceiving the music as it unfolds over time. This can be like erotic or spiritual unity – and music can take it to a very high degree some times. But what is actually more important than the one or two peaks per year, is to be in some kind of touch with this every night, and make sure you are as open to it as possible.
Is there a musician (of anytime) you really would dream to play with ?
My dream band is actually the band I have right now; Mats Eilertsen on bass and Jarle Vespestad on drums make up the best team I can think of for this music. And having Kristin Asbjørnsen and Tore Brunborg in the extended versions of the ensemble is equally rewarding and stimulating. Of course I could come up with other names that would have been interesting to work with at some point, but right now I prefer to dream of what is actually here – and focus on developing those musical relations as profoundly as possible.
What do you listen to and what do you read nowadays ?
I’m reading Norwegian authors Hanne Ørstavik and Lars Amund Vaage – both highly recommendable and translated to several languages. And I’m listening to Palestrina’s ancient Requiem Missa pro defunctis plus the brilliant songs of Roy Orbison, which my one year old son seem to have a special fondness for…
A wish ?
Substantial progress in the Middle East peace talks.
What could we wish you ?
More sleep as our son gets a little older…
Interview by Pierre Villeret