Born: April 5, 1977
Saxophonist Hakon Kornstad has enjoyed critical praise not only for his performance technique and emotional intelligence, but also for his willingness to experiment in a wide range of different expressive moods. Combining soundscapes and percussive beats and layers with a melodic sensibility, there's always been a sense of awe when listening to his recordings. In his newest offering, Dwell Time (Jazzland, 2009), we are again presented with his well-honed musicality, but this time the performances are all his own, in a scaled-down setting. It is a solo effort in every sense of the word.
In eight pieces we are offered a variety of expressions. From Still One, which seems to convey a reflective solitude, to the cool hipness of Oslo and the aptly titled Noir, Kornstad astounds us with his ability to masterfully grasp a spectrum of emotional output through his tenor sax, bass sax, flutonette, flute, in addition to his live looping. Recorded in the Sofienberg Chruch in Oslo, the album is produced by Kornstad as well.
"When I recorded 'Single Engine' in 2007, I was eager to show variety," Kornstad states. "With Dwell Time it was different. I simply wanted to get into one mood, dwell on it - and hit the record button. Insert the expression 'free improvisation' here if you like; the music was created there and then, and without overdubbing or serious editing. The Sofienberg Church in Oslo provides some excellent and inspiring acoustics, and this album was the result of a couple of nights there in January, followed by a serious cull of many of the little darlings. Enjoy the survived ones here."
Kornstad, who spends the gist of his time in New York and Oslo, was born in Oslo on April 5th, 1977. He began playing the clarinet in grammar school at a young age, eventually leading to studying saxophone formally at the Trondheim Jazz Conservatory. "Stan Getz was an early influence and I used to listen to my father's albums. I also heard Coltrane but thought he was too weird - I just didn't get him at the time. It wasn't until after I got into Jan Garbarek and Keith Jarrett's 'Personal Mountains' album that I think this opened up Coltrane for me," Kornstad says about his impressionable years. Its often noted about him, though, that while others stop at emulating Coltrane, Kornstad has continued on to develop his own particular style and tone, using his influences as a springboard rather than as platform to rest on.
While studying at the Conservatory, he met fellow students Wetle Holte (drums) and Per Zanussi (bass) and created the jazz trio Triangle, later joined by Erlend Skomsvoll (piano) and Live Maria Roggen (vocals). Eventually this would evolve into the band Wibutee, performing their first notable concert at the Bergen Nattjazz festival in May of 1998.
Later that same year, after his studies ended in Trondheim, Kornstad returned to Oslo and was warmly embraced by the emerging, new Norwegian jazz scene, centered around the contemporary music club Bla. This provided him with an opportunity to perform with various concepts - even with a DJ - and he quickly gained the attention of keyboard guru Bugge Wesseltoft, who signed him to Wesseltoft's Jazzland Recordings label in 1998. This first recording with Kornstad's band Wibutee 270 971-0 resulted in the album Newborn Thing, released in 1999 on Jazzland. (Wibutee means "Holy Ashes" in Sanskrit, originally spelled Vibhuti) In 2001 Wibutee released Eight Domestic Challenges, with Playmachine following in 2004, and recently Sweet Mental (Sonne, 2006). After Wesseltoft approached him in 1999 to join him for a concert in Glasgow, Kornstad has performed regularly with both Wesseltoft and in other concepts led by him. It wasn't long before the media began to take notice and write rave reviews of his live performances, as well as his performances with such other artists as Sidsel Endresen, Eivind Aarset, and even Anja Garbarek. Kornstad quickly became a vital contributor the energy of the emerging Norwegian jazz scene, with even the European music journalists starting to take notice. In 2001, he performed as Kornstad Trio with Mats Eilertsen (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) at the Molde International Jazz Festival with Pat Metheny, and in 2002 was awarded the prestigious Kongsberg Jazz Festival's Musician's Prize, which resulted in a commissioned work and performance the following year at that festival. Thisperformance resulted in the LP Live From Kongsberg (Jazzland, 2004). Also in 2002, he released the CD Space Available (Jazzland) under his Kornstad Trio. The group represents the best of the emerging jazz talent, and has toured extensively on the international touring circuit. Topping off 2003, Jazz Times (US) touted Kornstad as one of the world's 46 jazz hopes.
Joining Paal Nilssen-Love in 2004 for their recording of Playmachine (Smalltown Supersound), the BBC described it as "A bracing experience which may bring a sense of exhilaration and colour to your cheeks." His drive towards collaborations also resulted in 2005's project with pianist Havard Wiik to record Eight Tunes We Like (Moserobie), which Budd Kopman in All About Jazz wrote, "…an absolute gem of an album that is on my short list for Best of 2005. … 'Eight Tunes We Like' is a stunningly beautiful achievement and a major statement of musical purpose and method. In this respect it is an important album that will not allow you to hear these tunes the same way ever again. Bravo!" The duo followed up this successful pairing with The Bad and the Beautiful (Moserobie, 2006), which was nominated for a Norwegian Grammy (Spellemann) award. The album made the best of lists in various Norwegian newspapers and magazines, and was nominated for his fifth Alarm Prize (Norwegian Alternative Grammy) .
2006 saw Hakon being busier than ever, with him performing three solo concerts in China along with an exhibition of his design artwork featuring the many album covers he has designed for Jazzland. He toured Canada and Europe, as well as the USA, and engaged in an extensive tour of Norway. In August, Wibutee toured for their Norwegian Grammy nominated release of Sweet Mental (Sonne/VME), as well as performing as a sideman with other members of Wibutee for Anja Garbarek's band.
Into 2006 and into 2007, he joined the Jazzland Community, a touring club concept consisting of jazz musicians from the Jazzland label performing on each other's music and their own, showcasing the brilliant talent that label features. Together with Bugge Wesseltoft, Sidsel Endresen, Eivind Aarset, Marius Reksjoe and Wetle Holte they have toured across the major European capitals. A CD release entitled Jazzland Community was issued by Jazzland in 2007, featuring Kornstad's solo piece Sweden. After years of strengthening technique, discovering nuances, and playfully exploring the sonic possibilities of the sax, Hakon Kornstad finally released his own solo effort in Single Engine ( Jazzland, 2007). After a decade of collaborations and as sideman, the album showed that he had fully come into his own at last. With the culmination of his past, Kornstad was now firmly placed in the future, and Single Engine helped gain him the recognition for his own specific vision. He was joined on that album by noted guitarist Knut Reiersrud, bass player Ingebrigt Haker flaten as well as Bugge Wesseltoft In 2008, he released a duo recording with Ingebrigt Haker flaten entitled Elise (Compunctio). Time Out New York wrote of the album, "The disc achieves something rare in experimental jazz: It's lyrical sections retain a feeling of mystery, while its more abstract moments radiate a deep warmth." The album made many critic's lists for Best Albums of that year, including The Village Voice, and was called "a gem of an album" by no other than The New York Times. That same year also saw him guesting on Maria Kannegaard's Maryland (Moserobie, 2008).
He also found time to contribute on three songs for Unni Loevlid's Rite (Grappa, 2008), and Kannegaard's Maryland - Live! (Moserobie, 2009). Atmospheric and at times romantically haunting, Dwell Time requires the listener to enter an almost meditative state in which Kornstad's tonalities begin to paint their own dimension. It is a step into contemplation, where the aggressiveness of past musical ventures has been tempered with a solid maturity. Spend some time with Kornstad's music, and you'll understand why.