Sunday, May 22, 2011

Can Kristian Blak win the Nordic Council Music Prize?


Photo: kristianblak.com

The versatile Dane Kristian Blak, resident in the Faroe Islands since 1974, was also nominated in 1998 for the amazing album “Brøytingar”, which he first released with the band Yggdrasil and artist Ole Wich in 1988. Norwegian composer Rolf Wallin won the prize back then. But the open minded mix of nature inspired jazz, folk and “out there” compositions and improvisations, merged with pre-recorded sound bits, suggested, through the magic title cut, the wave of freak folk and neo-psychedelia of artists like Devendra Banhart and “Sung Tongs”-era Animal Collective 15 years later.

Listen to the title cut Brøytingar at Spotify.


Blak is the dominant person in Faroese music, and is almost solely made responsible for the transition in Faroese music from communal songs, choral songs and folk music, to the establishment of institutions like the interesting Tutl record label and store, Felagið Føroysk Tónaskøld (Association of Faroese Composers), the Summartónar festival and Torshavn Jazz Club. He has an extensive catalogue behind him as composer and pianist, ranging from the 70s to present day.

I visited Torshavn in the summer of 2010 and ended up with "Jazz í Føroyum", a collection of the first three jazz recordings in the Faroes, and the album "Symbiose" by Norwegian band Uhuru. I also had an interesting conversation with Blak in the Tutl store about a t-shirt with the inscription Support Faroese Independence, which he sold in the store. As far as I remember Blak did not come forward on the issue, but we also touched Björk’s song Declare Independence from the album "Volta" in which she urges independence for lyrically un-named colonies, but visually aims at Greenland and the Faroe Islands. (In this Pitchfork interview from january 2008, just prior to the Icelandic financial crisis, Björk also says that the banking systemy is an important part of Iceland's independence, and that The Faroe Islands and Greenland look to Iceland for inspiration). Björk, who was awarded the Nordic Council Music Prize in 1997, has later used the song in conjunction with independence issues, like Tibet and Kosovo. It has been always controversial.

Blak is rather a unifying figure in Faroese music life, and seems almost notorious in his versatility as a composer and performer. Blak contributed to "Jazz í Føroyum 1" in 1977, which is the first jazz recording in the Faroe Islands. Since, his name has been stamped on about 50 recordings as leader, composer or band member, amongst others in Spælimenninir and Yggdrasil. Genres such as contemporary, jazz, folk, experimental and music for children are all covered, and Blak has remarkable records like “Addeq” (1989), “Ravnating” (1991) and “Klæmint” (1998) under his belt. He also arranges cave concerts in the surroundings of the beautiful Faroe Islands.

The original vinyl edition cover of "Brøytingar" to the left. The CD re-issue to the right.

The fantastic “Brøytingar” translate to change in English and is a suite for improvisation group and tape. Blak was nominated as composer in 1998, as the Faroe Islands nominated a person for the first time. This time he is nominated as performer, which probably makes him the first to be nominated both as composer and performer in this competition.

Sonic reeds

Saxophonists dominate the list of nominees for this year's Nordic Council Music Prize, as half of them have saxophone as their main instrument. I have previously interviewed two of them, Rolf-Erik Nystrøm and Mats Gustafsson.

In 2004 I interviewed Mats Gustafsson for groove.no, immediately before a concert with trio The Thing at the Blå club in Oslo.

Read the English version of the interview here: - Energy is the most important parameter in my music.

The Norwegian only interview with Rolf-Erik Nystrøm is available in its original context here. 

The winner of the Nordic Council Music Prize is made public June 1st and is handed out during the council meeting in Copenhagen in November. The prize has been awarded since 1965. Until 1990 it was awarded to a composer once every three years, but since the price has been awarded annually to a composer and an artist or group every two years. The award has traditionally honoured music that fits into the European art music tradition, but has expanded its musical horizons and now also include artists and groups in other genres.

The magic Anker

Besides Gustafsson and Nystrøm, there are a couple interesting names among those nominated that I have had the pleasure of seeing live. One of them is the Norwegian vocalist Sidsel Endresen who was also nominated in 2001.

Lotte Anker (Photo: lotteanker.com)
Yet, Lotte Anker from Denmark has been responsible for perhaps the most magical concert I’ve experienced in recent years. The super intense concert in two parts happened at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival in 2009, as Anker, an accomplished saxophone player and composer, presented the Mokuto trio with Peter Friis Nielsen (electric bass) and Peter Jørgensen (drums), with Herb Robertson (trumpet) and Fred Frith (guitar) as guests. I did not review the concert and I (regrettably) have never interviewed Anker, but the very strong impro-based album, "Dressed Like a Horse", with all the above mentioned present, is listenable on Spotify.

Read about other Anker-projects at her website.

Race for the Price

This year the prize will be given to “Individual musicians (instrumentalists or vocalists), who have achieved innovation in music with improvisation as a bearing element, and whose efforts are co-creative and important for the form, sound and context of the musical expression. The nominees must have been worthy of attention on the Nordic or international stage within the last year”. 

Anker and Nystrøm are strong contenders, but Gustafsson, with an impressive international career and long catalog of uncompromisingly creative recordings and collaborations, probably fit the prize-criterias best this year. 

I haven’t traced Blak’s movements through 2010, but nevertheless, something tells me that he will win the Nordic Council Music Prize 2011. 

It is obvious that he deserves it. 

Kristian Blak is present in Spotify with several recordings, among them "Brøytingar".

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