Interview: Kjetil Mulelid — pianist & composer

I talked to Kjetil Mulelid about the music scene in Norway, his way of composing and musical influences. His new album Piano is out on Rune Grammofon now.

What is the jazz scene like in Norway?

As the rest of the world I think, there’s not much of a jazz scene here right now. A lot of things are on hold and people are not that active as they used to be. But if you would have asked me one year ago, I would have answered: Great, I love it! I think what’s great about the scene in Norway is the openness and curiosity about finding your own voice/expression in the music.

People are interested to find their own way to play, instead of trying to do what others are doing. That makes an interesting and ground breaking scene with a lot of new music and constellations, always on the search for something. Of course the jazz musicians here are all certain about the jazz tradition, and have in some way been touching the traditional jazz during their years.

But I would say that it’s what the general people want to listen to that keeps the music in change — and there’s a bigger scene in Norway to perform your own tunes and originals, than playing traditional jazz and covers. There’s also a lot of funding for that kind of music which makes it easier to go on with your own vision and expression.

I also wonder if the environment has an influence on your music — are you living in a city or more of the countryside?

Yes, I would say the environment has influenced me a lot during my years. I love being outdoors, on hikes, in the woods or just paddling on the fjord in a kayak. I find great inspiration there I would say.

My surroundings have always been in constant change though. I grew up in the countryside with my mother whose family is from the capital city, and my father whose family is from the great west-coast of Norway with the Norwegian landscape you’ll find on a Norwegian postcard — blue and green fjords and steep mountains. The place I grew up in is deep in the Norwegian woods, but I’m always aiming for the mountains if there are any nearby. For The last 10 years I’ve been living in city’s like Trondheim, Copenhagen and now Oslo. A good mix.

Photo by Jenny Berger Myhre at Vigelandmuseet

In your introduction to the album you talk about recording what you are playing instead of writing down music notation. Can you describe how this works? Are you recording your practice sessions or improvisations?

Both. I’m recording a lot of improvisations, listening to them and trying to hear what I’m aiming for in the music. Also, I’m recording a lot of ideas on my phone. Mostly I start my own rehearsals with doing a short improvisation. Then I maybe try to concretize the ideas I got up with to a specific idea. Sometimes that gives me something to continue on, and sometimes it’s just some rubbish I throw away… Mostly the latest actually. There are a lot of bad ideas before I get to the ones I really like, haha. I guess that’s the most common way for most people who make music.

It looks like you have a lot of different projects — solo, duo, trio. Is there a different way you compose for each of these?

Mostly it’s the same way — sitting by my piano and trying to figure out some ideas I like. Most of the music I make comes with a flow. The different way of working is maybe more in the arranging part, and when I bring the song to the different bands. I really like to hear the other musicians opinions and let them colour the song.

You mentioned jazz and psalms. Who are some of your main musical influences for piano?

Hmm, there’s so many. When I first discovered jazz at high school, I was really into Norwegian pianists such as Tord Gustavsen, Helge Lien and Christian Wallumrød. Then I dived into more classics from abroad such as Evans, Corea, Jarrett, Hancock etc., and newer guys such as Svensson, Mehldau, Glasper, Wiik, Parks etc. Lately I’ve been digging into the music of Craig Taborn, Paul Bley, Jason Moran, Maria Kannegaard, Augusti Fernandez, Benoit Delbecq, Shai Maestro, Harmen Fraanje, Masabumi Kikuchi etc.. There’s so many good ones. Jarrett will maybe always be my number one! What a man — incredible!

And finally what other music are you inspired by recently?

So much good music, but I’ll always be a huge fan of Nick Drake and Radiohead! And also the work of Motian / Haden. Recently I’ve also been doing a lot of play-along with the music of Jakob Bro.

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Playlist with inspo-music I have made: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/16DIdsGB938iYT9Jpksl23?si=89c932265d9648d7

Playlist with my discography: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1nSYZjAE45pQK7eCO02QYd?si=fd401417b2ac4394

Nick Nightingale is an American guitarist and composer. Nick’s work drifts between experimental music, ambient and minimalism.

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