Tenor Battle - Håkon Kornstad


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«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.» KETIL BJØRNSTAD

Vinyl Edition available from November 30th 2015.
 
Dubbed by international jazz critics as poster boy for the new Norwegian jazz and heir of the Nordic saxophone throne, 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 generation young jazz musicians with his groups Kornstad Trio and Wibutee. He has performed live collaborations with both 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 several roles taking him well into 2016. He will be singing Lensky in Tschaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the district opera of Kristiansund, and this year he has been part of a commissioned work by contemporary composer Cecilie Ore. A fantastic musical journey already. But what happened to the saxophonist Håkon Kornstad?
 
The saxophonist is very much alive! 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 rather different meaning, when he mixes his newfound tenor voice with his unique tenor saxophone playing. The UK jazz magazine JazzWise writes this about a recent concert in St Martin-in-the-fields: "Håkon Kornstad and his ‘Tenor Battle’ troupe have fashioned a triumphant Bartók-reversal, the successful contextualising of high-end tropes into the folk firmament.”
 
And the sound? Caruso meets Coltrane? Björling meets Garbarek? On Tenor Battle, opera arias by Massenet, Gluck and Bizet, as well as classical art songs are mixed seamlessly with Scandinavian Jazz. Håkon Kornstad sings in Italian, French and German, with a haunting, light Scandinavian tenor voice, bringing back memories of 78RPM era salon orchestras. 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 percussion 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 musicians in Kornstad’s ensemble have their backgrounds in jazz, folk and classical music. They have worked intensively with the freedom to improvise and arrange, be it instrumental numbers or classical arias - respectfully and playfully at the same time. Four 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.
 
This beautiful and truly genre-bending jazz album is also the debut of a promising classical singer. Enjoy a Tenor Battle!
 
Vinyl Edition available from November 30th 2015.

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