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Live Reviews

Norwegian Jazz 101: JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2008

By Published: May 16, 2008
Rosendal and Albatrosh

Traveling, by boat (Hardangerfjordekspressen's Rygerfonn) to Rosendal, JNiaN attendees received their first exposure to the beauty of the Norwegian coastline. White-capped mountains coexist with smaller hills and seemingly countless inlets where communities as small as half a dozen homes pepper the waterfront. After checking in at the Rosendal Fjordhotel, while there was little spare time there was enough to take in the beauty of this small coastal town, couched at the foot of a number of mountains.

align=center>JazzNorway in a Nutshell / Rosendal Rosendal, Norway

After a brief break, a twenty-minute walk—through pastoral landscapes with bubbling streams and fields filled with sheep and newly born lambs—took the group to The Manor of the Barony of Rosendal, a 350 year-old structure that housed rooms decorated in styles from various past centuries. Prior to dinner, a house performance by Albatrosh—a duet featuring pianist Eolf Dale and saxophonist Andre Roligheten—demonstrated the degree of musical sophistication and maturity amongst many of Norway's youngest musicians. Generous financial support of the arts—coupled with innovative grade school tours that expose children to adventurous music from a very early age—prove that cultural education works. As more and more music programs are dismantled in North America, Norway's inherent support is one of the fundamental reasons for its emergence as one of the most forward-thinking countries when it comes to music, regardless of the genre (or, more importantly, in defiance of genre stereotyping).

JazzNorway in a Nutshell / Albatrosh / Andre Roligheten

Roligheten and Dale's music provided a jumping board to considerable free improvisation, where the saxophonist demonstrated a wealth of extended techniques, coming not only from American artists including Albert Ayler and John Zorn, but from emerging Norwegian artists like saxophonist Hakon Kornstad—a young player himself but one who, through his work with Wibutee and his remarkable solo album Single Engine (Jazzland, 2007), is becoming increasingly influential. Dale creates his own sonic space by often exploring the high and low registers of the piano, rather than soling largely in the piano's middle range, the more conventional home for soloists.

While there was an air of rigor about Dale and Roligheten's music, there was also the occasional hint of a dry sense of humor. The two have been playing together for a few years now and, while they've yet to release a CD, the effortless communication they demonstrated suggests that, when they finally do document their work, it's going to be well worth checking out. While there were moments of greater extremes, there was also an inherent attention to space that created a much more appealing dynamic arc to their performance. And while the music is a form-based means to a freely improvised end, that doesn't mean the music is simple. Complex polyrhythms, sometimes more implicit than direct, and lengthy, high velocity themes created very specific contexts for the duo to explore, making its performance an example of the kind of as yet undocumented musicianship that will keep the Norwegian scene alive and continually growing.

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Haugesand, Bugge Wesseltoft and Arriving in Stavanger

An early morning departure from Rosendal on the "Helgoy Express" provided JNiaN attendees with even more access to the beauty and diversity of Norway's western coastline, as it wound its way south towards Stavanger, the trip's final destination and home of the annual Mai Jazz festival. The trip stopped approximately half-way to Stavanger in Haugesund, another coastal town that has its own annual jazz festival, Sildajazz. Norway has, in fact, over twenty different jazz festivals, ranging from the electronic/remix Punkt Festival in Kristiansand to the 35 year-old Vossa Jazz Festival (where many live albums, including guitarist Terje Rypdal's outstanding Vossabrygg (ECM, 2006), have been recorded), the legendary Molde International Jazz Festival, where bassist Arild Andersen recorded his equally fine Molde Concert (ECM, 1982) and the modernistic Kongsberg Jazz Festival.

A noon-hour solo performance by Jazzland label head and keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft featured the seamless integration of acoustic and electric instruments with live sampling and sonic alterations, also incorporating a video screen of images responding to Wesseltoft's playing, as well as speakers set up around the hall so the audience was, at times, literally surrounded by the music.

JazzNorway in a Nutshell / Bugge Wesseltoft

Compared to earlier solo performances at Punkt 06 and his Jazzland Community tour, which made a stop in 2007 at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, Wesseltoft's approach to solo performance continues to evolve. While Wesseltoft would make his virtuoso talent crystal clear in a performance later that day in Stavanger with Arild Andersen, in Haugesund he demonstrated an increasing attention to space and economy. Perhaps the result of increasing confidence in a solo context, Wesseltoft's approach to evolving largely freely improvised music that possessed the complexion of scored music was both starkly beautiful and unfailingly engaging.

Combining his instruments (and use of them in unorthodox ways, making every part of the piano a potential source for sound) with voice, live sampling/looping and electronics, Wesseltoft created in-the-moment music that ranged from ethereal melancholy to viscerally driven grooves. Harmonic sophistication led to folkloric simplicity and a sound that was far removed from the conventional jazz tradition but, like Kolve the previous day, Wesseltoft demonstrated that, underneath his own voice lies a conversance in that tradition. Still, with bold emphasis on its familiar bass line, Wesseltoft closed the set with a version of Paul Desmond's "Take Five" unlike any you'll hear on the west side of the Atlantic.

Continuing to Stavanger, the JNiaN attendees had little time to settle in before hitting the first evening shows. Mai Jazz combines a program of well-known Scandinavian artists with those not-so-well-known or up-and-coming, and a small roster of artists from abroad. The city is in the midst of a year long cultural celebration of the arts that will bring together a multiplicity of artistic disciplines.

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