Hedvig Mollestad Trio at Café OTO

True to form, the Norwegian guitarist took the rock part of jazz-rock to heart in a thumping appearance as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival

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Left to right at Café OTO, 18 November 2021: Hedvig Mollestad, Ivar Loe Bjørnstad and Ellen Brekken. Photo by Roger Farbey

If you thought the so-called “idiot dancing” craze died out eons ago (set your Tardis back to 1971, London, Roundhouse) behold, here was a guy madly gyrating away milliseconds after the Hedvig Mollestad Trio opened their high-octane set. But who can blame him? From the off, the entire audience was captivated. With her pre-kick-off announcement, Mollestad expressed her genuine delight that her trio were playing here.

Given the global state of things, and that this gig signified the recommencement of the London Jazz Festival in the flesh, this sentiment could be the cri de cœur of every band playing, everywhere. The only reminder of the nightmares of the past two years was the requirement on admission to show a negative Covid-19 lateral-flow test result. That said, virtually all the audience present was maskless.

Surely no one in this capacity crowd left feeling short-changed. Rather, there was a distinct sense of unbridled and universal elation, courtesy of this magnificent trio

The shock of the trio’s loudness was another reminder of those Chalk Farm gigs half a century ago, but seemed appropriate since Mollestad’s oeuvre depends on dynamism and a rock sensibility, and this is rock but, crucially, with jazz chops.

Compositionally, the riff-abundant tunes were redolent of perhaps Red period King Crimson or early Mahavishnu Orchestra and Mollestad’s virtuosic playing is at times reminiscent of Larry Coryell or even Jimi Hendrix, but at their heaviest, the trio might have been channelling the likes of Motorhead or Black Sabbath replete with synchronised wildly nodding heads from the two guitarists, à la Status Quo. 

However, the set wasn’t uniformly jazz thrash metal. A restrained hiatus in the middle saw bassist Ellen Brekken replace her trusty Fender Precision with a double bass, evincing fragile arco lines whilst drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad produced soundscapey sheets of sound, employing a bow drawn against cymbals.

After a return to full electric instrumentation, Brekken took up the acoustic bass once more but here, playing pizzicato and with the bass plugged into her mighty 15” speaker cabinet, the gratifyingly rumbling notes were almost indistinguishable from those emanating from the bass guitar. She even managed some thunderous slap bass on the instrument.

The trio seemed to race through their 80-minute set with barely a pause, delivering some recent favourites from their last two albums including Gimbal and Four Candles from Ding Dong You’re Dead (Rune Grammofon, 2019) and Bewitched, Dwarfed and Defeathered from Smells Funny (Rune Grammofon, 2018).

The encores, taken as read, segued into the end of the performance, so didn’t require the customary audience inducements. The set’s relative brevity was due in part to the band offering to play a second late set after the support act was forced to cancel. That said, surely no one in this capacity crowd left feeling short-changed. Rather, there was a distinct sense of unbridled and universal elation, courtesy of this magnificent trio. Finally, a live proper gig!

Hedvig Mollestad Trio, Café OTO, London, 18 November 2021, part of the 2021 EFG London Jazz Festival