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Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen is a Norwegian guitarist, composer, and improviser. Her always visceral music sits on the rough and rowdy borderline between progressive hard rock and avant-jazz. She leads the Hedvig Mollestad Trio (HM3) and has collaborated with many jazz, rock, and pop artists including Mats Gustafsson, Jon Eberson Group, El Doom & the Born Electric, Jarle Bernhoft Band, Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, and Hilde Marie Kjersem. Upon the release of HM3's debut Shoot in 2011, she wowed critics with an edgy playing style that wove dissonant, aggressive, and noisy improvisations into defined song structures that referenced everyone and everything from Black Sabbath, Jim Hall, and Stravinsky to grunge, Brit-pop, bebop, and neo-psychedelia. Seasoned by nearly five years of touring and rehearsal, 2013's All Them Witches proved the trio's breakthrough. They wowed critics and fans in clubs and at festivals, and Mollestad proved she could deliver that fiery presence and innovation in the studio. The incendiary rock at her trio's core sometimes confused jazz fans, but the simultaneous release of two very different live offerings in 2016 changed that: Black Stabat Mater deliberately employed heavy guitar riffing as the jumping-off point for free jazz exploration, and Evil in Oslo, a double-length, summed up the trio's evolution up to that point and extended it with the group's improvisational power. After touring with Black Sabbath and John McLaughlin, Mollestad's group re-entered the studio to capture that evolution on their live outings. The more avant-jazz-rock-oriented Smells Funny was issued in 2018. Thomassen was born in Ålesund, Møre og Romsdal, Norway in 1982. She had an everyday exposure to jazz courtesy of her father, Lars Martin Thomassen, a well-regarded trumpeter who worked with Jan Garbarek's band during the '70s, and on the Norwegian scene in general. Her mother, a teacher, played guitar. Mollestad gravitated toward the latter instrument and began playing guitar at age ten on her mother's nylon-string instrument. While she had no "formal" musical education to speak of, her learning ground was the extensive record collection of her parents. Still in high school, she translated a biography of Jimi Hendrix for a school project. She immersed herself not only in his groundbreaking work but also in the guitar styles of everyone from Jimmy Page, Sonny Sharrock, and Fred Frith to Pete Cosey, John McLaughlin, and Carlos Santana. She also studied with Norwegian guitarist Jon Eberson (and later guested with his band). Before forming her own trio in 2009, she collaborated with a wide swath of musical personalities and ensembles including the Bronco Busters, Sweet Potatoes, Vom, and her own early Thomassen Trio. Her recording career began as a guest on the Cumshots' (environmental activist musicians Kristopher Schau and Ole Petter Andreassen) fourth album, A Life Less Necessary, in 2009, the year she founded HM3. She immersed herself in improvising and playing jazz and won the Jazztalentprisen for Young Jazz Talent of the Year at the Molde International Jazz Festival in Norway that same year. She formed the Hedvig Mollestad Trio with Brekken and Bjørnstad immediately afterward. In 2010, she appeared as a guest soloist on Jarle Bernhoft's cassette-only offering 1:Man 2:Band. Her trio's debut album, Shoot!, appeared on Rune Grammofon in 2011 and was widely acclaimed for its bracing mix of hard rock, metal, and free jazz. Later that year she appeared as a soloist on the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Øyvind Brække's Migrations, on the Jon Eberson Group's The Coarse Sand & The Names We Wrote, and Hilde Marie Kjersem's Let's Let Go. In 2012, Mollestad (on guitar and Hammond B-3) became a member of Andreassen's rangey, revolving, progressive supergroup El Doom & The Born Electric. The band's members also included Ståle Storløkken, Eberson, brothers Håvard and Brynjar Takle Ohr on drums and guitar, respectively, bassist Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen, and Mikael Lindquist on Mellotron. They issued a self-titled album on Rune Grammofon. Her own trio played at the Steinkjerfestivalen that summer. The Hedvig Mollestad Trio's sophomore recording, All of Them Witches, was released in 2013 to universal acclaim in jazz, avant-garde, and indie rock circles. She also recorded a studio album with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra entitled Ekko that year and appeared with them live. In June of 2014, the HM3 issued their third album, Enfant Terrible, which was glowingly reviewed in Northern Europe, and their sound had begun to resonate in North America after touring there. The group never really got off the road. They played so many shows that it made sense for HM3 to issue a live recording. Of course, rather than follow convention, HM3 issued a pair of live offerings in 2016. Black Stabat Mater showcased a new direction. The trio's signature riffs and vamps were decentralized in their importance. Rather than be a backbone for song structures, they were employed as the first marker in an expanded use of advanced harmonics in group improv, a direct move toward jazz, though Mollestad is vehement in her refusal of genre purity; for her, it's all about what comes next, and it doesn't matter where it's from. The other live set, Evil in Oslo, marked a summation, as the group revisited earlier directions through the lens of their developed, unfettered style. When Mollestad's band re-entered the studio in 2018, it was to employ the musical knowledge they'd gained on the road. They set out to write and record using complex song structures that left abundant room for free interplay and invention. The resultant Smells Funny found them reaching a pinnacle of acceptance and success critically and commercially, and they took that year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, by storm. They spent the remainder of the year and most of 2019 honing their new sound on tour, playing primarily jazz festivals, showcasing their intimate improvisational process and multivalent musical language. Later that year, Mollestad was invited by the Vossajazz Festival to compose and perform a work for a larger ensemble. She assembled a half-female/half-male sextet of powerhouse players including drummer Torstein Lofthus, keyboardists Marte Eberson and Erlend Slettevoll, trumpeter Susana Santos Silva, and percussionist Ole Mofjell, and delivered a spiraling program of spiky metallic jazz. After their performance, Mollestad took the live recordings and edited and refocused her compositions for the recording studio with the same band. in the early summer of 2020, Rune Grammofon released Ekhidna -- the title references the half-woman, half-snake creature in Greek mythology -- to reflect this band's lineup.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo
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