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Anna von Hausswolff
Live At Montreux Jazz Festival Joe Banks , January 10th, 2022 09:27

A tremendous live set from Sweden’s mistress of ecstatic gloom

Despite its designation, the Montreux Jazz Festival has hosted all manner of artists and bands over the years, but the organisers may well have wondered what hit them when Anna von Hausswolff and her band played the festival in 2018 at the invitation of Nick Cave. Hausswolff is a performer of elemental intensity, a channel for powerful and mysterious forces. Her voice alone sounds like it could tear open the sky at any moment. But it’s matched by the imposing yet visceral grandeur of her music, which constantly threatens to engulf both her and the listener. Jazz this most certainly isn’t.

Recorded off the back of her two most ambitious albums, The Miraculous and Dead Magic, this release captures Hausswolff at peak rapture, the live environment audibly supercharging the connection to her atavistic vision. The looming, imperial chirruping of her pipe organ during ‘The Truth The Glow The Fall’ invites comparisons with medieval church music, with the instrument a sonic analogue for God. But here it’s removed from its Christian context to act instead as a conduit for pagan myths and dreams, with Hausswolff paralleling the romantic Scandinavian folk fantasias of Edvard Grieg.

If that all sounds a bit OTT, that’s because it is – this is music that demands your complete involvement. The martial percussion and huge tolling chords of ‘The Mysterious Vanishing Of Electra’ are like an industrial call to prayer, and recall Michael Gira’s Swans. But while this type of ritualistic rock often seems designed as an endurance test for the listener, Hausswolff wants your full attention, and does everything in her power to draw you in. That incredible whooping, beseeching, defiant voice might be her most striking means of communing with the audience, but the music itself can’t be underestimated. Just listen to the gothic doom prog of ‘Pomperipossa’, where dramatic pillars of noise reach into the vault of heaven to block out the sun and submerge the land in eternal night.

The set climaxes with ‘Come Wander With Me/Deliverance’, which builds from a murmur of bowed bass into a tumult of hypnotic heaviness, the drums like a battering ram against the third eye. Then Hauswolff is back on the pipe organ and gearing up for one final exultation of terror and wonder before the guitar soars into the firmament. If you’re new to her, this is an ideal introduction to Hausswolff’s dense but sinuous music. But for true believers, it’s a blessed sacrament for the overwhelming of the ordinary world.