Christian Wallumrød: Seeking the Contemporary

"I am still fond of jazz, and a lot of other music too, but if you ask me in which direction my curiosity leads me, it is towards music that has something contemporary about it and is not reproductive", says Christian Wallumrød, the pianist who made his international début on Manfred Eicher’s ECM label in 1998 with the No Birch trio.

Christian Wallumrød

At that time, Wallumrød (1971) had been one of Norway’s most promising young pianists since leaving the Trondheim Music Conservatory’s jazz department in 1992, playing in groups such as the Airamero and Nutrilo quartets. Airamero toured the whole of Scandinavia and Germany, although the latter tour was accompanied by varying fortune and a great deal of effort. Wallumrød drily describes this experience as “the way it necessarily has to be when you book a tour by phone from Oslo and don’t even know where Berlin is on the map”.

Today, Christian Wallumrød leads the No Birch trio, which otherwise comprises trumpeter Arve Henriksen and drummer Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen. He is also a member of another well-established Norwegian trio, Close Erase, plays in drummer Audun Kleive’s Bitt, which has recently released a CD, and in autumn 1999 turned up in a crossover ensemble at the annual Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival. He regards the step from modern European jazz to contemporary music as being neither large nor unnatural. “The musical affinity both ways is so close that cooperation between jazz and contemporary musicians is a natural consequence,” he says, revealing that the two Györgys – Ligeti and Kurtág – are composers he listens to frequently.

“Kurtág’s Játékok (ECM New Series) is one of the very few records I know will make me happy when I listen to it,” he says, also mentioning Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues as “incredibly beautiful music”.

Christian Wallumrød began his journey towards what turned out to be a professional musical career at the age of five. That is when his understanding parents purchased an electric organ “of the type found in every other Norwegian home in the 70s”. He took lessons in classical music from the age of eleven and soon advanced to accompanying the children’s gospel choir in the local chapel. At fourteen he decided to be a musician, bought a Fender Rhodes for his confirmation money and dreamed of being a studio musician, strongly influenced by the records of Simon & Garfunkel, Olivia Newton-John, Al Jarreau and Randy Crawford. Older friends introduced him to jazz in the form of Miles Davis’ We Want Miles LP, while pianist Ole Henrik Giørtz introduced the boy to Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and other great jazz pianists. Later on, Keith Jarret’s Belonging and Still Live became minor revelations for Wallumrød, who still speaks warmly about Jarrett’s way of dissolving chord schemes and tackling harmonics. Paul Bley became another source of inspiration, so why did he have this desire to enter the large, partially impenetrable landscape known as contemporary music?

“When you choose to approach other genres, I think the driving force is that you suddenly discover something new that finds an echo in yourself,” says Wallumrød, concluding: “There is a great deal that touches me, and I find some of it in contemporary music. A lot of creative activity has to do with searching, and I may suddenly find something I am looking for clearly expressed in the works of others, for example in contemporary music. Anyway, my overall goal, to the extent I have one, is to continue to play the music I want to play at any given time.”

Translation: Virginia Siger ©
Printed in the music magazine Listen to Norway, Vol.8 - 2000 No. 1
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