Flowing from the fjords

Norwegian drummer Stale Liavik Solberg is in Israel for a brief engagement, flanked by high-profile local talent such as Daniel Sarid and Harold Rubin.

Liavik Solberg 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of Andreas Kleiberg)
Liavik Solberg 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of Andreas Kleiberg)
We have something of a burgeoning free jazz scene here, with gigs taking place at venues such as Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv and Uganda in Jerusalem with fairly high frequency. We also get artists from abroad who pop by periodically to share their artistic insights with us, and join forces with some of their Israeli counterparts.
Norwegian drummer Stale Liavik Solberg has been here several times over the past couple of years, sharing the stage with local improvisational stalwarts the likes of pianist Daniel Sarid, clarinetist Harold Rubin and guitarist Ido Bukelman.
Next week, Solberg will team up with compatriot vocalist Stine Janvin Motland, as the Motsol duo, to perform concerts at Awsat High School in Haifa, and at Uganda and Levontin 7, with Sarid and Rubin joining the Scandinavians in the second set at the latter venue.
32-year-old Solberg and Motland have been sharing their artistic journeys for some time now, both as a duo and as part of a quartet alongside cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and clarinetist Frode Gjerstad.
“We have been working together for seven years now, since we started studying jazz in Stavanger,” says Solberg. That was for an undergraduate degree in jazz, and the four continued on to a master’s degree at the music conservatory in Oslo, which they took as a group.
Over the years Solberg has worked with Motland, and with the quartet and other larger groups and says different personnel volumes offer different advantages.
“When I work with Stine it’s fun because we can feed off each other and alternate things. Sometimes she’ll lead and do all sorts of crazy things while I keep the melody going, and then we can do it the other way round, or we can play we neither of us taking the lead.”
Then again, when there are only two musicians on stage it leaves each player with a greater degree of responsibility.
“That’s true,” observes Solberg, “but it’s also fun to playing in bigger ensembles. Then again, sometimes in bigger bands you end with a specific role and you have less freedom. So there are advantages and disadvantages.”
Growing up, Solberg was initially exposed to a very different musical mindset than his current avenue of creative expression.
“There was all that late Eighties and early Nineties stuff on the radio,” he recalls. “I remember I got [Norwegian pop group] A-ha and [Canadian rock musician] Bryan Adams cassettes for Christmas one year.”
Things soon changed.
“When I was 12 or 13 I got a CD player and I borrowed quite a few CDs from one of my uncles and started buying CDs and records. My uncle had some 1970s 1980s funk and fusion, everything from Herbie Hancock’s electric Head Hunters album to [American R&B-based band] Tower of Power.”
SOLBERG STARTED developing an interest in drummers and started drumming with the school band. He began checking out all the jazz-fusion drummers of the time, including Billy Cobham – Cobham’s 1973 album Spectrum was teenage Solberg’s first CD purchase – and Tony Williams.
Trumpeter Miles Davis, and his drummers of the 1950s Jimmy Cobb and Philly Joe Jones, also provided Solberg with inspiration.
“I got interested in trying to work out how all the music was organized and fit together. I listened to a lot of different music and I’d play along with different records.”
Before long he got his own drum set and began practicing long and hard, which couldn’t have been much fun for his parents.
“Actually, my mother told me she had been worried about the noise but said it could have been much worse, because listening to a horn player playing out of tune would have been horrible.”
Despite immersing himself in listening to and playing music Solberg was still not sold on the idea of becoming a professional a musician when he left high school. He spent some time at a folkmusic based school and tried his hand at various endeavors until, eventually, at the relatively ripe old age of 25, he started a BA in jazz.
“I think that was an advantage, that I came to the studies a bit older and more mature,” he notes.
“It allowed me to be more critical of what I learned and listened to, and not just accept everything.”
He gradually began playing on the small, but growing, improvisational music scene in Norway and says his generation of Norwegians has taken free jazz there to a different level.
“I think people got a bit fed up with the [German jazz label] ECM sound sort of thing. They started looking for something different.”
Today, Solberg says he is drawn to the music of free improvisational players such as saxophonists Evan Parker and Peter Brotzmann, pianist Cecil Taylor and guitarist Derek Bailey.
“It is their texture and the fact that they are able to put some kind of forward motion in their playing, it’s amazing. I get a great feeling from their music, but you can’t have this forward motion the whole time, but you can push it sometimes. That is something I want to be able to do.”
Watching Solberg play is anything but boring.
There is always something going on as he alternates between different drums and cymbals, drumsticks and brushes, and bells and other means of varying the texture and rhythm of his playing.
“It’s about bringing new things up the whole time,” he declares.
“I am aware that I may tend to slip into a pattern, so I watch out for that and try to keep things interesting.”
Motsol will play at Uganda in Jerusalem on November 7 at 9 p.m., Awsat High School in Haifa on November 9 at 9 p.m., and at Levontin 7 on November 10 at 8:30 p.m.