Few improvising musicians can match the transatlantic prolificacy of Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. Since moving to the U.S.—first to Chicago in early 2006, then to Austin, Texas, in late 2008, where he still lives—he's stayed busier on two (and sometimes three) continents than most folks do on one. He's equally expert on electric and double bass, whether playing tunes or freely improvising, and his imperturbable grooves are just as powerful as the thrumming energy and gnarled turbulence of his solos.
Håker Flaten has maintained long relationships with the European groups where he first made his mark—they include Swedish-Norwegian quintet Atomic, which recently dropped Six Easy Pieces (Odin), its 11th album (not counting its two collaborations with Ken Vandermark's School Days), and the Thing, a power trio with reedist Mats Gustafsson and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (which has a collaborative album with guitarist James Blood Ulmer due this year). And the bassist's connections to U.S. players only seem to get stronger with time.
Håker Flaten's website lists a slew of new recordings coming in 2017, and a few that are already out demonstrate his stylistic and geographic range. Last fall Rune Grammofon released XXX, a sprawling four-album vinyl set that collects most of the extant recordings the bassist made with Nilssen-Love and fiery Finnish electric guitarist Raoul Björkenheim in the Scorch Trio (it doesn't include the group's most recent material, where former Chicagoan Frank Rosaly plays drums). This group fed the high-volume, hard-hitting fusion of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra and the paint-peeling fury of early Sonny Sharrock into an amped-up, chaotic postpunk sound, paving the way for heavy Norwegian trios such as Elephant9 and the combo led by guitarist Hedvig Mollestad. For my money, though, none of them has been able to match the Scorch Trio.
The frenzied rhythm section masterfully supports Björkenheim's ear-piercing extrapolations—he's one of the most ferocious electric-guitar improvisers of the past couple decades. Most of XXX comes from the Scorch Trio's first three albums, but the fourth record is a Finnish studio session from 2000 that includes a version of John Coltrane's "Big Nick." Below you can check out the first track from that session, "Sharrockism," whose opening chordal flurry leaves no doubt about who the song title refers to.
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Håker Flaten takes a very different approach on Bricktop (Trost), a live duo album with veteran multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee that was recorded at Okka Fest in Milwaukee in June 2015. McPhee's liner notes explain that its three improvised pieces are dedicated to the eccentric Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith, an American singer and entertainer who was a crucial part of the Parisian expat community beginning in the 20s—nicknamed "Bricktop," she was the inspiration for Cole Porter's classic "Miss Otis Regrets." McPhee is at his most meditative, his beautiful playing on tenor saxophone rippling with soulful intensity. He and Håker Flaten are longtime collaborators, and in this stark, acoustic setting their rapport is clear as day. Below you can check out the tender title track, which features fantastic arco playing by the bassist.
Håker Flaten will give a rare solo performance Monday evening as part of the terrific Option Series at Experimental Sound Studio. Following the concert, he'll be interviewed by Vandermark.