I’ll put my cards on the table right now. Jazz and myself have a long and unhappy history. It’s probably the one genre that I don’t listen to, and frankly, for most modern jazz, I just don’t get it. Imagine my trepidation when I was asked to review Dans Dans and the Hedvig Mollestad Trio, playing in Belfast as part of the Brilliant Corners Jazz Festival.
Kicking off proceedings were Dans Dans (it translates to Dance Dance) – a three-piece that mix reverb-heavy guitar riffs with drums and electronica. Imagine The Handsome Family doing the soundtrack for Twin Peaks and that starts to get close to their sound.
Guitarist Bert Dockx spends a lot of time kneeling over a bank of pedals in order to coax loops and samples into existence, and I couldn’t help but notice that some of these were provided via a genuine cassette tape player. The tracks are long and melodic and the rock influences are undeniable; this is borderline jazz, rock, and a tiny bit of blues thrown in for good measure. Snatches of Dockx’s guitar remind me of the guitar sound from The End by The Doors and indeed some of the licks he plays wouldn’t be far out of place on the soundtrack of a Tarrantino film; listen to the track Au Hasard if you’re in any doubt.
Fred Jacques on bass was rock steady; not at all flashy and without a hint of flamboyance. Steven Cassiers on drums ranged from machine-gun tom toms to laid-back swing. The band switch back and forth between smooth and silky mainstream jazz to more syncopated forms of playing. TV Dreams was the stand-out track for me, and there’s some ambient electronica that creeps in near the end (Close Your Eyes); I counted six big tracks; all of them different, unique, and well worth listening to.
The Hedvig Mollestad Trio take their name from their Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen, with Ellen Brekken (bass) and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad (drums). Mollestad has played with a number of European jazz and rock bands, and has one solo album under her belt. As a trio, the band have released five albums to date; they describe their sound as “outgoing and progressive instrumental rock.”
This is a much louder and vibrant set; Mollestad takes to the stage in a red sequined dress and is almost dwarfed by her striking white Gibson 335. Within the first number, both Mollestad and Brekken are off the stage in the Black Box and playing in amongst the audience. On numbers like Laughing John you can pick out riffs that bear comparisons with Hendrix and Metallica, and I could have sworn I heard something that sounded very like T Rex’s Children of the Revolution. There are nods to more prog rock-type influences in the set with long, soft dreamy passages. The track Big Dipper would fit more with the prog rock sounds but even then, Mollestad provides a soaring, echoing guitar that suddenly leads the number into classic, fast guitar-driven boogie-woogie.
Bjørnstad’s drums are intricate and complex and it wasn’t a surprise that we were treated to a drum solo. Normally I’m death on drum solos, but this (a) was pretty entertaining and (b) didn’t last for hours. Brekken’s playing on both electric and upright bass is stunningly good, but any bassist would need to be at the top of their game to be on a stage with Mollestad. As a guitarist she is a virtuoso and has an almost primal style of playing. She is one of the most talented guitarists that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in recent years, and as all the true greats do, she made it look effortless. The evening ends with Mollestad playing guitar on top of a table right in the middle of the crowd.
Two guitar-led three-piece jazz bands; two very different sounds and approaches. You have to salute the organisers of the Brilliant Corners festival for their diverse programme and for bringing outstanding bands to play in Belfast, that we would never get the chance to see otherwise.
Scroll through our photo gallery, by Julianne Rouquette, below: