A MUSICAL JOURNEY
Dubbed by international jazz critics as poster boy for the new Norwegian jazz, Håkon Kornstad is one of a handful Norwegian jazz artists who have been listed in the US jazz magazine Downbeat’s “Critics Poll”. He has been an inspiration for a new generation young jazz musicians with his groups Kornstad Trio and Wibutee. He has performed live with the likes of Pat Metheny and Joshua Redman, and was a central figure in Bugge Wesseltoft’s New Conception of Jazz. Kornstad has been nominated for the Norwegian Grammy several times, most recently for his unique solo saxophone recordings.
Then, as his jazz career is skyrocketing, he decides to start singing opera… In 2009 he is in New York, and hears Cavalleria Rusticana at the Met. A couple of weeks later he finds himself in the studio of a retired soprano on the Upper West Side, doing his first ever vocal exercises. It transpires that he is a tenor with a fine operatic voice that needs training. Six years later, he has a masters degree from the Norwegian Opera Academy, and has sung full roles in the Norwegian national opera with the programme. A fantastic musical journey already. But what happened to the jazz saxophonist Håkon Kornstad?
“Håkon Kornstad has the rare ability to head straight for whatever is most important in a musical expression. When I first heard this recording, I thought: This has not been done before. Not so beautifully. Not so delicately. A great deal of thoughtful work is needed to connect so directly to our senses.
One of the world’s finest saxophonists now reveals himself as an utterly unique and deeply personal singer. Rarely, if ever, has a performing artist managed to combine two vastly different musical expressions at such a sky-high level, and at the same time made the total output seem so clear and coherent.”
MEET THE KORNSTAD ENSEMBLE!
In the fifties, the jazz saxophonists competed in playing fastest and loudest and called it a Tenor Battle. In Håkon Kornstad’s new ensemble the expression takes on a totally different meaning, when he mixes his newfound tenor voice with his unique tenor saxophone playing. The Guardian concluded: «It could have been a virtuosic circus act, but in Kornstad’s hands was a musical tour de force.»
And the sound? Caruso meets Coltrane? Garbarek meets Björling? On the album Tenor Battle, opera arias by Massenet, Gluck and Bizet, as well as German lieder and Neapolitan songs are mixed seamlessly with Scandinavian Jazz. Håkon Kornstad sings in Italian, French and German, bringing back memories of old world salon music. And then he plays the saxophone, with his distinct warm sound. Sigbjørn Apeland’s harmonium sounds like a blend between strings and wind instruments, and drummer Øyvind Skarbø plays nuanced on arias that were never intended for drums. Harpsichordist Lars Henrik Johansen fits in naturally with his baroque instrument on romantic pieces, while double bassist Per Zanussi also plays the singing saw, without it ever turning circus-like.
The sincerity and beauty of the arias is retained, but the ensemble adds something that has been lacking in
classical music interpretation for quite some time now: The freedom to improvise.
The musicians in Kornstad’s ensemble have their backgrounds in jazz, folk and classical music. They have worked intensively together on these arrangements, be it instrumental numbers or classical arias—respectfully and playfully at the same time. Five years have passed since they first met as a group, and their intention has been to let the group sound find its way organically over time, through rehearsals and concerts throughout Norway. The message is starting to come across, and the album received fantastic reviews in the Norwegian press.
Now it’s your turn to discover this beautiful music!
Håkon Kornstad — tenor saxophone, tenor, electronics; Sigbjørn Apeland — harmonium; Lars Henrik Johansen — harpsichord, cimbalon; Per Zanussi — double bass; Øyvind Skarbø — drums
Håkon Kornstad Ensemble performing the music from “Tenor Battle”, live at Nasjonal Jazzscene, Oslo, Norway, October 2015
Håkon Kornstad on TEDx Norway, 2013 “Jazz vs Opera”
“The first time I heard Tenor Battle, I was thrown by the oddness of Kornstad's alternation between saxophone and voice. It can feel a bit gimmicky initially, but the closer I listened, the clearer it became that he'd invested the album with same discipline and thoughtfulness that's marked all his projects.”
CHICAGO READER (US) Read on
“Jazz and operatic tenor are not the most obvious bedfellows. In fact on paper you might think, hmm, this could very easily sound dreadful. But Kornstad has found a way of presenting the unlikely alloy, with perfectly suited band, in such a way that it not only works, it feels like each enhances the other still further. Copper and tin have their own charms, but bronze has a certain lustre that is irresistible.”
THE JAZZ BREAKFAST (UK) Read on
“Tenor Battle situates Kornstad’s eloquent tenor sax and fine operatic tenor voice within a group. Harpsichordist Lars Henrik Johansen can sound like a Neapolitan mandolin-strummer, Sigbjorn Apeland’s harmonium can be orchestral or accordion-like, and there are two delectable instrumentals – Monteverdi’s lovely Lasciatemi Morire, delivered in high sax trills and lustrous low tones, and a slow, Jan Garbarek-like account of Rimsky Korsakov’s Song of India.”
THE GUARDIAN (UK) Read on
“His project is as musically enrichening for those who prefer classical music as well as for those who love it when musicians stretch for the unknown. There is something magic, almost timeless – and at the same time innovative – in the way they handle these songs.” ★★★★★
AFTENPOSTEN (NO) Read on
“He is balancing these different elements in a way that only artists with a rare musical insight are able to do.” ★★★★★
“Kornstad is both a fine tenor player, and an operatic tenor (verging on counter tenor), who miraculously drew together the worlds of opera arias and jazz expression, a rare feat of a jazz-ical crossover venture with artistic integrity and heart intact.”
DOWN BEAT (US) Read on