AMN Reviews: Anna von Hausswolff – Live at Montreux Jazz Festival (2022; Southern Lord)

After reviewing Anna von Hausswolff’s brilliant solo organ album All Thoughts Fly eighteen months ago, my (not entirely correct) impression was that it was an outlier in an oeuvre of more conventional pop / rock efforts. More recently, her contributions to a live Sunn O))) recording also came across my desk and served to rekindle my interest in her earlier works. Thus, the timing was perfect for the release of Live at Montreux Jazz Festival.

This new offering was recorded in 2018 with a band including von Hausswolff on vocals and organ, her sister Maria also on vocals, and a full heavy rock band with synth, drums, percussion, two electric guitars, and bass. The set is an hour long with track lengths from 3 to nearly 20 minutes and features pieces from her previous albums.

Despite being from a jazz festival, this is nothing like jazz. If anything, it is a set of organ-driven prog songs with nods toward metal, drone, and Medieval music. The most standout factor is von Hausswolff’s singing, which borrows techniques from pop and blues. She is both fragile and powerful, and singularly emotive. Coupled with the band’s long instrumental breaks and thematic development, there is no mistaking this music for anything mainstream, however. Whether screaming to dense walls of chords or taking a more gentle approach during introspective passages, von Hausswolff has a striking and unconventional style.

Further, her use of organ and lyrics with religious overtones manages to juxtapose a subtle invocation of Catholicism with something much more primitive. Similarly, her love songs exhibit a darkness that would prevent them from being placed anywhere near a top-40 list. von Hausswolff seems to welcome these incongruities.

Live at Montreux Jazz Festival is a moving and powerful release. My highest recommendation to anyone who finds the above description even mildly compelling.