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Live Reviews

Kongsberg Jazzfestival: Music from the Hall of the Mountain King

By Published: July 18, 2008
Mats Gustaffson is known for his ability to shred ears and other anatomical extremities with his coruscating baritone saxophony. However this show started with the man hunched over a table on which rested 3 innocuous electronic boxes. Needless to say they proved to be some kind of voltage regulating sound generators, whose gentle washes and blips soon gave way to the kind of visceral grunts and guffaws that are his normal acoustic trademark. The escalated howling and pounding gave way to a more sublime washes and a final zap, to close this part of the program. It also made a thoroughly natural link between the electronic half of his show and the second acoustic part, which was a typical display of his full-blooded exploration of tone and timbre of his solo saxophone through one extended piece.

The subsequent set from Free Fall, with members Kenneth Vandermark's on Bb and bass clarinet with pianist Havard Wiik and bassist Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten, continued this experimental theme. Vandermark leads from the front: tall, solemn and rather portentous, but behind him Haker-Flaten works like a beaver on all ends of his instrument. Wiik to the side plays very fluent piano, intermediating between the others both rhythmically and melodically. The program continued in a similar astringent vein with the duo of Nilsen-Love and Joe McPhee.

The evening saw the conclusion of the Smalltown Superjazz programme, first with 75 minutes of hyper-active musicality from The Thing, continuing through till the early morning with Original Silence. The former saw Mats Gustaffson sparring with Kenneth Vandermark out front, while behind Nilssen-Love and Flaten kept up their intense rhythmic work, taking listeners on an interstellar investigation of the outer reaches on saxophone-led hyper jazz. Original Silence added guitar (from Terri Ex and Casper Brotzmann) and bass (Massimo Pupillo) to Gustaffson and Nilssen-Love's presence, bringing down the curtain on the oft anarchic sounds and energies emanating from this dynamic, young Oslo-based label.

The same evening saw similar angular, complex music from Diamond Curtain Wall, where Anthony Braxton was joined by Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpets and like horns, and Mary Halvorson on guitar. This must have been interesting, as it provoked much breakfast table discussion. Similarly that evening saw performances from the Nigel Kennedy Quintet, in which the ever-youthful violinist is accompanied by electric cello, guitar and rhythm section, playing a selection of his own tunes. Saxophone Summit, with Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman and Ravi Coltrane also filled the main stage that same evening, though without fueling excessive debate the following morning! Roy Hargrove's animated performance with his Quintet in the town cinema was another classy performance of straight-on jazz from another seasoned act.

Day 3—Friday, July 4

Another stellar day with a table-full of classic jazz and plenty of appetizing side dishes too. My starter was a bizarre combination of meandering female vocals and the pounding toms of Wildbirds and Peacedrums. This duo from Gotenburg, Sweden, has won the Jazz in Sweden prize in 2008 and offered a selection of hypnotic songs from Mariam Wallentin, accompanying herself on organ, snare or simply a waved drumstick, and by Andreas Werlin's relentless rhythms. Described as part pop, part improvisation, and part tribalism, it was an intriguing mix, somewhere between Joni Mitchell and John Bonham, maybe best appreciated by members of their children's generation.

The afternoon featured a nice set from Ingrid Mjanger and Paul Holden, themselves half of Bergen's own Orphelia Hope. Another winner of a jazz prize herself (this one in Norway in 2006), Mjanger here revealed the determinedly wistful side of her repertoire, mainly composed by her guitar accompanist Holden. Songs of lost love, lonely hills and ceaseless waves were a delicate taste of nicely crafted work.

For classic connoisseurs there were two major concerts on this day—an early evening combination of Wayne Shorter playing with the classical New York female reed ensemble Imani Winds. Following a short set of 2 breezy compositions by band members and one by Astor Piazolla, they left the stage for the Wayne Shorter Quartet. The veteran musician produced a 40 minute show with Messrs Perez, Patitucci and Blade on fine form. The final set included both ensembles squeezed on stage, which lead to a cluster of bursting energy from Blade and his bandmates, which visibly raised some hairs amongst the classical sorority. The other major occasion was an evening with Miles Davis' bassist and Shorter's former colleague Ron Carter, with his own band playing a catalogue of their former leader's tunes. A highly polished affair by all accounts.

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