Christian Reim Sextet ‘Mona Lisa Suite live at Molde Jazz Festival 1973’ LP (Jazzaggression) 5/5

Five years prior to this live performance at Molde Theatre, Norway, we had been bestowed one of the most exciting Scandinavian releases to date in Terje Rypdal’s monster ‘Bleak House’, where our Molde born bassist Terje Venaas was joined by pianist Christian Reim, trumpeter Ditlef Eckhoff, drummer Espen Rud (part of Karen Krog / Dexter Garden group in 1970) and saxophonists Knut Riisnæs and Carl Magnus Neumann (a.k.a. Calle Neumann). Pluck these six musicians and plant them on stage in 1973 and the chemistry was guaranteed to produce exciting results. In fact, the only negative in this recording is the almost 50-year wait for it to be released.

MONA LISA comprises six parts composed by Reim, none with fade out audience appreciation which would confirm the sequence on the album, although there is midway clapping, that grows from the blues of part 1 into a speedy post-bop part 2 with all horns at full pelt. Leader, Christian Reim excites throughout and would later return to perform at the Molde Jazzfestival in 1976 with Carl Magnus Neumann for our second Jazzaggression release of 2021. For me though Venaas’ bassline elevates this piece to a greater place. Part 3 enters in a melancholy mood before gaining a boogie pace as the group gather their thoughts and the audience is dragged (hypothetically) to the foot of the stage for a shuffle – it could have made for an appropriate band encore as it bounces along from start to finish.

The longest, part 4, being a 12-minute soprano-led modal highlight and perhaps the most rounded piece here and, in my opinion, the “big” tune of the 6. The market Jazzaggression records will have tapped in to since their inception back in 2007 will surely be one focused on this piece of music – the money maker. It’s here where the clapping from the audience after the sax solo taps into the event and the scale of the compelling performance. Modal often breathes spirituality and some of the most accomplished compositions of our time bridge these to produce lifelong memories, with this composition firmly placed therein – it just needs a better title for the muses to provide debate over virtual coffee! Part 5 works its magic around Reim, as wordless chants come in to play. A frenetically loose, sometimes disjointed, modern jazz foray before a rapid close – I’m sensing the removal of a lengthly applause on the original recording. And then it brings us to the final part, one with more experimental notes than previously played and something of a late-‘60s prog-rock undertone. A performance that provided a little of everything.

Rehearsal photo: Randi Winnifred Hultin

The musicians here are not newcomers in 1973, instead, their experiences were maturing, giving the listener today a window into the creativity and freshness of the performance. They subsequently went on to produce memorable albums and astonishing music; for instance, Espen Rud and Terje Venaas would go on to accompany Chet Baker in 1983. To now hear them together away from a studio is not only exciting but important in their individual stories and in the evolution beyond ‘Bleak House’. The Mona Lisa Suite was performed only once and to have this recorded and released is proof enough of its importance, its standing in Norwegian jazz and relevance in today’s thurst for archival recordings. It also acts as further proof of the steadfast longevity of the Moldejazz festival, founded in 1961, which continues to attract 22,000 visitors each year.

The album is complimented with wonderful sleeve notes, photos from the concert and incredible artwork on the cover giving it all the oomph it could possibly need to shine brightest.

Steve Williams