Album title: TENOR BATTLE
Release Date: 13 November 2015
20 Nov – Kings Place, part of the EFG London Jazz Festival (solo) 7.30pm SOLD OUT
20 Nov – EXTRA late show added at 10pm due to popular demand
5 Dec – Den Norske Klub, London (solo)
“It could have been a virtuosic circus act, but in Kornstad’s hands was a musical tour de force” The Guardian
Tenor Battle is the new album by Norwegian saxophonist Håkon Kornstad and its tale is a strange one. This is no ordinary saxophone album – in fact, there is nothing ordinary about it at all. This is an album that on paper sounds as though it shouldn’t work and yet one listen to it will tell you otherwise. This is an album – get ready – that seamlessly blends jazz with opera. As unbelievable as it sounds, it’s true – and it works.
Håkon Kornstad has been dubbed by international jazz critics as a poster boy for new Norwegian jazz and is one of a handful Norwegian jazz artists who have been listed in the US jazz magazine Downbeat’s “Critics Poll ”. Not only that, 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. He has been nominated for the Norwegian Grammy several times, most recently for his unique solo saxophone recordings. So what was it that made such a successful jazz musician turn his hand to opera? The answer is simple – Kornstad discovered that he could sing. Not just sing, but that he had a fine, operatic tenor voice.
It’s difficult to describe an album of opera and jazz, Caruso meets Coltrane? Björling meets Garbarek? Strange as it seems, on Tenor Battle, opera arias by Massenet, Gluck and Bizet, as well as classical art songs are mixed seamlessly with Scandinavian Jazz. Kornstad sings in Italian, French and German, with a haunting, light Scandinavian tenor voice, bringing back memories of 78RPM era salon orchestras.
The band, who have now been together for four years, have backgrounds in jazz, folk and classical music and have worked intensively with the freedom to improvise and arrange – be it instrumental numbers or classical arias – respectfully and playfully at the same time. Along with Kornstad’s saxophone, with his distinct warm sound, there is Sigbjørn Apeland’s harmonium, which sounds like a blend of strings and wind instruments. Drummer Øyvind Skarbø plays nuanced percussion on arias that were never intended for drums and harpsichordist Lars Henrik Johansen fits in naturally with his baroque instrument on romantic pieces, while double bassist Per Zanussi also plays the singing saw.
This is a truly astonishing album and as if more proof were needed that this unique experiment has worked, you can see Håkon Kornstad perform solo on 20th November at Kings Place as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
When Håkon Kornstad visited New York in 2009, he was taken to hear Cavalleria Rusticana at the Met and a couple of weeks later and he was in the studio of a retired soprano, on the Upper West Side, doing his first ever vocal exercises. It transpired that he was a tenor with a fine operatic voice – in need of some training, yes – but a proper operatic voice nonetheless. Six years on, he has a masters degree from the Norwegian Opera Academy and has several operatic roles taking him well into 2016. He will sing the part of 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.