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Clip: Margasak on Chicago improv bassist Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten

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  • Carl Z.
    Scandinavian Import Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten is in the house. By Peter Margasak October 6, 2006
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 5, 2006
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      Scandinavian Import

      Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten is in the house.

      By Peter Margasak
      October 6, 2006

      Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten spends most of his time on
      the road. He plays with half a dozen working groups, including
      important Scandinavian outfits like Atomic and the Thing as well as a
      couple bands led by local reedist Ken Vandermark, School Days and Free
      Fall; he's made six tours of Europe this year alone. And now when it's
      time to come home Haaker Flaten heads to Chicago -- he moved here in

      Haaker Flaten made the big leap across the Atlantic to be with his
      girlfriend, Trea Fotidzis. The couple met in summer 2005, when
      Fotidzis traveled to the Kongsberg Jazz Festival in Norway with her
      friend Mitch Cocanig -- one of the organizers for the local improv
      collective Umbrella Music -- and within months they were certain it
      was time to live in the same city. When it came down to deciding which
      city, there wasn't much contest -- Haaker Flaten had already developed
      musical friendships with a number of Chicagoans.

      "I thought I knew what America would be like, because we experience so
      much of it in Norway through television and movies," says Haaker
      Flaten. "But it's been strange." The bassist says he's inspired by the
      challenge of adjusting to a new culture, and when he's actually been
      here -- so far his European road schedule has kept him from spending
      more than the occasional two- or three-week stretch in Chicago -- he's
      focused on that task, putting aside music for the most part. "I really
      want to experience this for a while," he says. "I think it's important
      to take your time and get things going." Last week at Elastic he
      debuted the first band he's formed since the move: a Chicago version
      of his Norwegian quintet, it includes guitarist Jeff Parker, drummer
      Frank Rosaly, and reedist Dave Rempis. (Violinist Ola Kvernberg, a
      member of the original lineup, flew in for a week of rehearsals before
      the concert.)

      Now 35, Haaker Flaten has been one of the most active participants in
      Oslo's bustling, multistylistic scene since graduating from the
      prestigious Trondheim Conservatory in 1995, and in the past decade and
      a half he's contributed to more than 40 albums. He established his
      international reputation with a ten-year stint in New Conceptions of
      Jazz, a popular, hard-touring fusion combo led by keyboardist Bugge
      Wesseltoft (infamous here for telling the New York Times in 2001 that
      he hadn't heard an interesting American jazz record in 20 years). At a
      Finnish festival in summer 1999 his performance with that group got
      the attention of explosive Swedish reedist Mats Gustafsson, and by
      year's end he was filling in for the regular bassist in Gustafsson's
      AALY Trio on a U.S. tour with Vandermark. Within months of the trio's
      stop in Chicago -- Haaker Flaten's first visit to the city -- he'd
      joined Vandermark's new band School Days, which also included drummer
      Paal Nilssen-Love (an old Trondheim schoolmate) and local trombonist
      Jeb Bishop.

      Since then the bassist has performed in town regularly with a number
      of established ensembles, but he's rarely taken advantage of his time
      here to explore new groupings with local musicians. The prospect of
      finally doing so in earnest has him excited, though, and he plans to
      start several more bands in the coming months. "Here people work with
      different musicians all of the time, so you have to present your ideas
      clearly," he says. "It's been inspiring. Even though not all of the
      musicians have formal training, it's not a problem. I think it lets
      people have an edgier sense of expression, and people are more aware
      of the whole tradition than in other places." He's especially
      appreciative of the deep grounding in jazz history he's encountered in
      Chicago musicians. "They've been checking out everything from early
      jazz to contemporary stuff, where all of the players came from," he
      says. "It's rare to find that in Norway in the same way. People don't
      always think if what they're doing has been done before. But I think
      it's important to know the history before you claim something is new."

      Haaker Flaten had developed his own catholic sensibility even before
      he arrived in Chicago. A latecomer to jazz, he didn't start listening
      to the music seriously until he was 18, but since finishing school
      he's played a wide range of styles: the rigorous jazz-electronica
      hybrid of the Wesseltoft band, the postbop of Atomic, the knotty,
      abstract grooves of Close Erase, the searing electrified crunch of the
      Scorch Trio, the high-energy, almost thrashy free jazz of the Thing
      (with Gustafsson and Nilssen-Love), and the gestural, airy free
      improvisation of the Electrics (who'll tour the midwest next month).
      This summer the original Norwegian lineup of Haaker Flaten's quintet
      released its first album on Jazzland, and in many ways it reflects
      this range: its tight compositions and precise contrapuntal
      arrangements seamlessly blend rock energy, textural amp noise, raucous
      free jazz, and swinging rhythms.

      Right now Haaker Flaten is in the middle of five consecutive weeks in
      Chicago -- his longest stay so far -- and he wants to make his
      presence felt. He's got two gigs in town this week, including a
      quartet appearance Thursday at Elastic with locals Kevin Drumm and
      Fred Lonberg-Holm and legendary British saxophonist Evan Parker. But
      even more significant, from a certain standpoint, is his show on
      Wednesday at the Hideout -- he's one of ten Chicago improvisers
      playing two sets in small ad hoc groups. "I'm definitely feeling like
      I belong here now," he says.

      Umbrella's First Fest

      Both Haaker Flaten gigs are part of the Umbrella Music Festival, which
      runs from Wednesday, October 11, through Monday, October 16. The
      Umbrella Music collective -- Dave Rempis of Elastic; Ken Vandermark
      and Mitch Cocanig, organizers of the "Immediate Sound" series at the
      Hideout; and Josh Berman and Mike Reed, who book jazz at the Hungry
      Brain -- launched last spring with the aim of pooling resources to
      cross-promote concerts and bring in more big names for extended
      engagements. "Things are going pretty well," says Rempis. "I'm seeing
      a lot of new folks coming out." He adds that the series of four
      concerts Umbrella began in May at Gallery 37's Storefront Theater was
      a big success, packing the space (which holds 90) by the end of its
      run in June. Twenty-five artists, half of them out-of-towners,
      submitted proposals for the next round -- six more concerts, which
      began last week.

      The Umbrella fest -- with events at the Hideout, Elastic, the Hungry
      Brain, Intuit, the Velvet Lounge, Gallery 37, and the Chicago Cultural
      Center -- replaces the Phrenology Festival, held at the Brain every
      fall since 2001. It's also helping fill the gap left by the
      disappearance of the venerable Empty Bottle Festival of Jazz and
      Improvised Music. Several strong local groups will be joined by
      high-profile visitors like the Claudia Quintet, saxophonist Evan
      Parker, pianist Myra Melford, drummer Gerald Cleaver, and saxophonist
      Ellery Eskelin. Go to umbrellamusic.org for details.
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