Arve Henriksen by Christopher Porter

ARVE HENRIKSEN SOUNDS like Gabriel himself on the trumpet, playing supernatural tones sluiced from the heavens like so much gentle rain.

His voice, too, is angelic, floating above the music like a falsetto cloud, a billowing bouquet of mystery.

But in the improv supergroup Supersilent, the delicate Henriksen hulks up and helps incite the sort of fire and brimstone that can only be heard when the four horsemen gallop into town.

Beauty can’t exist without blight, fear can’t exist without delight.

Arve Henriksen‘s music incorporates all of this, which is why this Norwegian trumpeter-singer from the tiny town of Stryn has participated in some of the greatest improvised jazz / electronica / experimentalism projects of the past 10 years.

He’s an avid collaborator, too, having appeared on amazing albums by his ECM Records labelmates and fellow Norwegians Christian Wallumrod, Trygve Seim, Jon Balke, Sinikka Langeland, Frode Haltli and Arild Andersen, as well as with Audun Kleive Generator X, Food, and former Japan singer David Sylvian and more.

Even his first band known band, Veslefrekk, was a collaborative endeavor with drummer Jarle Vespestad (Tord Gustavsen, Farmer’s Market) and keyboardist Stale Storlokken (Supersilent, Humcrush), and it helped lay the groundwork for all his future electronic-jazz creations.

20090617-arve-cd.jpgEven Henriksen’s newest album as leader — the stunning, inventive and ever-shifting “Cartography” (ECM) — is the result of many fruitful collaborations, including the Trio Mediaeval choir, producer Jan Bang. (Punkt), guitarist Eivind Aarset, his old Supersilent bandmate Helge Sunde.

(If the names in the preceding two ‘graphs are a mystery, trust me: They are among the creme de la creme of Norway’s remarkable improvisation, jazz and experimentation scenes.)

And Henriksen, 41, will work again with his longtime friend and inspiration Nils Petter Molvaer, another Norwegian trumpeter who has long explored the intersection of improvised music and electronica, on the rooftop of D.C.’s House of Sweden at the Nordic Jazz 2009 festival.

I spoke with Hendriksen four years ago on another rooftop — the Grand Hotel in Norway — during the Oslo Jazz Festival about his formative years, Supersilent, and how he developed his distinctive signature styles on trumpet and voice.

Arve Henriksen by Christopher Porter

» EXPRESS: Did you always want to be a musician?
» HENRIKSEN: I started out playing football — soccer. That was my main thing. But my brothers and sisters were playing in marching bands; that was a kind of popular thing, especially in the ’70s and ’80s. I started out playing trumpet in sixth grade, but I didn’t find that so interesting. But I learned very fast, and my brother and sister also played trumpet, so any chance to play with them. But it took two years before I really wanted to do something with music. I went to this summer school and met the Brass Brothers, and their teaching is so enthusiastic and they can give young people an amazingly positive experience n one week of summer music camp. It was just amazing what they did to me and all my friends and colleagues. We played and improvised; we didn’t need any music. We just improvised and played Dixieland stuff. This was very important for me in the coming years, and the loads of energy these guys brought to music. This was my starting point.

Arve Henriksen by Christopher PorterThen I started rehearsing more, and I really wanted to improvise more. I heard Miles Davis‘ “Kind of Blue” after I went to Germany when I was 15, with the Blue Lakes Fine Arts Camp, like in Michigan. I went down to this one month tour in Europe with the German version of it, so there were loads of Americans and people from Norway. It was the first time I played in big bands. …. Before that, I created my own Dixieland band in 7th grade.

» EXPRESS: When did you start singing, too?
» HENRIKSEN: After doing primary school and all this stuff, I had a chance to study music … at the conservatory in Trondheim. In Trondheim, we were rehearing with the trio Veslefrekk, so we started the concept in 1988, and at one rehearsal I just started to sing. I was listening to some John ColtraneA Love Supreme” live recording stuff, and they started [grunt, hissing]. They were singing in this kind of primal, shouting — [arrrgh, wooo]. I just felt the trumpet couldn’t express anything more, so I just had to sing. And I had been listening to Per Jorgensen with Jokleba — Jon Balke and Audun Kleive — and he’s a trumpet player who sings fantastically. He also plays guitar and percussion. I had been watching and listening to him, so maybe that’s the reason also. … I have this falsetto, high-register kind of thing, and people said, “Oh, you can sing high.” I didn’t rehearse the voice; I just sang when I had a chance to do so in concert. … Now the voice had become a part of my music. But I have to be careful: I don’t want it to be an instrument that every knows; I just want it to be a secret thing that sometimes comes up.

Arve Henriksen by Christopher Porter

» EXPRESS: You grew up in the tiny village of Stryn, on the west coast of Norway, surrounded by nature: fjords, forests, etc. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.
» HENRIKSEN: That’s very important to me creating the music I do now, this nature thing. We [Norwegian musicians] always get the question why we play like we do, and, of course, ECM and all has been very important to me. But if you go to the Blue Lake music school, and I learned about all this jazz … it just opened up tons of things. But I heard my first Norwegian band, Masqualero, with Arild Andersen and Nils Petter and all those guys, and it was just fantastic. … I feel like I’ve been going through the jazz history. … But I was never interested in just playing bebop or the standard material; I can do that sometimes, but I would really like to go somewhere else, because I don’t have time to learn all these styles and go into it.

» EXPRESS: You’re perhaps best known for playing in the improv-noise band Supersilent. Didn’t that group come together as a happy accident?
» HENRIKSEN: Veslefrekk formed in 1988, and we had our first CD in 1994. In 1997 we met Helge Sten, who produced [the rock band] Motorpsycho, at the Nattjazz fest to make a collaboration with Veslefrekk. Rune Kristoffersen from Rune Grammofon heard us and said he was planning on starting a new label and he said, “You’re the first band on the new label.” So, we went in the studio — we met in May and in June and July we recorded “1-3” [a triple CD]. Fantastic experience. … I still don’t know what happened there. [Laughs] This music was still quite new to me. Having this ECM kind of sound in your head, and having the inspiration from Jokleba with Jon Balke and Per Jorgensen — it’s sort of conventional music. But Supersilent, it was just sounds. We did that kind of thing with Veslefrekk, but when Helge joined he could make these big chords that could stand for 2, 3, 4, 5 minutes; we didn’t need anymore. That was kind of strange.

The triple CD, was just supposed to be one CD originally; 60 minutes or something. But we had four hours of music, so we called Rune and asked, “We have lots of things here, so maybe a double?” There was silence and then he said, “Mmmm, OK.” For him, this was the first CD on his label! And then two days alter we called from the studio in Holland, and we said, “I think we have to consider a triple.” He agreed on it. Then the next CD, “IV,” we just met in the studio and recorded stuff, and Helge took all the parts that he liked [and put it together]. On “V,” there was some live stuff. … Supersilent is four boys meeting and having fun.

Arve Henriksen by Christopher Porter

» EXPRESS: You’re known as an experimental musician, but I understand Supersilent was a bit of an education for you.
» HENRIKSEN: Jarle has been playing in rock bands, and Stale loves Jimi Hendrix and all this stuff. While I heard of it, and listened to some of it, for me in ’97 it was a shock meeting the more rock and black underground music. Up till that point, I was kind of a choirboy. I was into folk music, classical, some church and organ music. Up to age 17 or 18, it was just marching band, because I was also a conductor at one point.

» EXPRESS: But you were already playing somewhat out in Veslefrekk, and your trumpet sound was really percussive for a “choirboy.”
» HENRIKSEN: I’ve always been very interested in the drum part of a band. Ever since I started playing with drummers in Trondheim … I always listened to the drummer more than the harmonic area. … In Bergen, with Bjorn Torske, the DJ guy, we did a commission [in 2000 or so] and we met and played, and during the concert his machinery just collapsed. And I was standing there, “What the fuck am I supposed to do?” I had some machinery going on myself, some loops, but soon I just ended everything. And I was standing there with nice sound in two different microphones — because I would sometimes play two trumpets at a time — and I started to [make sounds like pheew, haaaatt] because I had heard of this beatbox thing. And I was like, “Wow, this is amazing,” because I could get loads of different sounds from just making rhythms, not notes, no conventional trumpet tones.

» EXPRESS: But where did these more Eastern-leaning, almost Japanese sound-haiku influences come from?
» HENRIKSEN: Shakuhachi bamboo flute, which I heard for the first time in Trondheim. Nils Petter Molvaer came up there and he was playing in a project as a soloist in a band I was part of. He brought me a cassette — very bad quality — but he said, “Listen to this.” And I said, “Wow, what’s happening?” When I heard it, I thought I could bring this sound into the trumpet, because it’s close to what I’m trying to do in my work. I listen to Miles and Chet Baker and Nils Petter, Per Jorgensen and Don Cherry — maybe those are the musicians I had been listening to. But this shakuhachi flute had this quality of sound that was completely good. So, I bought more CDs with this kind of music on it, and it took five years [for me to record something]. … “Sakuteiki” [2001] was my first record that has this more Japanese focus. [“Chiaroscuro," 2004] was more electronic.

» EXPRESS: Both of those records are improvised, too. Do you ever compose?
» HENRIKSEN: I’ve been in many, many projects and bands, and being the father of three kids, there’s no much time for me to sit down and compose. And I’ve been more interested and focused on the improv because I love that kind of situation, being in the very moment. Of course, I’ve been trying to do compositions as well, but it’s more sketches.

» House of Sweden, 2900 K St. NW; with Nils Petter Molvaer, Sunna Gunnlaugs Quartet (Iceland), Jonas Kullhammar Quartet (Sweden), Wed., June 17, 6:30 p.m., $25 from Ticketweb or 866-666-8932.

Photos by Christopher Porter at the 2005 Oslo Jazz Festival

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