Since the early 1970s, the Norwegian music scene has received increasing international exposure, first through the German ECM label, but over time with an increasing number of Norwegian labels including Odin, NorCD, Curling Legs, Rune Grammofon and Jazzland. For a country of less than five million people, what is perhaps most remarkable is the sheer number of exceptional musicians, as well as the degree of sophistication that can be found, even amongst young players still in their teens. While the Norwegian scenewhich, from a jazz perspective, runs the gamut from straight-ahead to free jazz/improvised music and electronica-based Nu Jazz continues to gain exposure internationally, another remarkable aspect of the country is the degree to which governmentfrom municipal to federalsupport arts of all forms. With the past decade representing perhaps the greatest growth in the scene since the early 1970s, Norway is trying hard to get the word out to the world, to spread its distinctive approach to jazz and other musical forms. The country also has a remarkable approach to music that says, essentially, that there are no rules, and that anything is possible. At Norway's Punkt Festival, it's as likely to see Karl Seglem playing goat horns through an array of processing effects and loops as it is a thirty-piece string section, four samplers, a turntablist, bassist, drummer, keyboardist and guitarist take the music of Wagner and turn it into something entirely new and rife for improvisation.
JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2008 (JNiaN) is a junket designed for media, promoters and programmers from around the world to experience the vast diversity of Norwegian music, but by including trips around the country to soak up the country's distinctive culture, it creates an even deeper understanding of how the music has evolved. Jazz is, after all, a cosmopolitan melting pot of influences, as capable of incorporating the folk music of Norway as it is the American blues form. The tour is also a means of creating a social network, not just between the artists and the attendees, but between the attendees themselves, where new ways of linking jazz activities from around the globe are encouraged and cultivated.
Beginning on May 6, 2008 in Bergen, on the southwest coast of Norway, the trip wound its way down the coast, with stops in Rosendal and Haugesund, before settling in Stavanger for four days, where the annual Mai Jazz festival was already in full swing. Traveling down the coast one of the most noticeable aspects to the country's population is that, while there are major centers like Bergen and Stavanger (Oslo, on the east cost, is the country's largest city with a population of about half a million people), small communities can be seen everywhere, largely linked together by boat, although more roadsand tunnels, to allow traveling under the countless waterways and fjords that define the craggy coastlineare being built every year.
Like many of the stops along the way, Bergen is a city with countless waterways and mountains. With steep hills rising from the numerous waterfronts, it's no surprise that there's a pervasive sense of health and well-being amongst the Norwegians. Centuries-old architecture lives side-by-side with modern buildings, and yet there's never a sense of incongruity. And Norway may be an old country, but it's progressive-minded in its adapting of innovative ways to conserve energy (despite being energy rich) and preserve green space.
JNiaN's attendees were treated to a number of performances from artists known and unknown, in concerts that were open to the public and, in some cases, were small private shows organized especially for JNiaN. Vibraphonist Ivar Kolve was the first performance on May 7, preceding lunch at Kafe Kippers, a beautiful restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating along one of Bergen's many waterfronts. While Kolve's recordingsInnover (2004) and View From My Room (2007), both on Curling Legsare trio efforts, here he performed solo. Still, with the inclusion of electronics and a number of extended techniques that included bowing the keys, Kolve delivered a unique solo performance that ranged from spare atmospherics to knotty complexity and repetitive motifs redolent, at times, of minimalist Steve Reich.
Overall, Kolve is a deeply melodic player, bearing no small reference to Gary Burton's music of the early-to-mid 1970s. Combining bowing with one hand and dexterous double mallet work with the other, he managed to create a richly textured sound. When he incorporated looping and sound processing, there were times when his music approached the ambient space of artists like Brian Eno. But when programmed beats and harmonies entered, Kolve took the opportunity to demonstrate his improvisational acumen in a Nu Jazz context. Closing with "There Will Never Be Another You, " Kolver proved himself completely conversant with the conventional jazz tradition, although his short performance focused largely on his own writing. Like many Norwegian musicians Kolve may be capable of straight-ahead jazz; but he chooses, instead, to create a personal voice, more distinctly reflective of his own culture and life experiences.