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Live Reviews

Norwegian Jazz 101a: JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2009

By Published: June 3, 2009
Voss Extremes and Sidsel Endresen/Håkon Kornstad

While some JNiaN participants got up early to do some whitewater rafting, the less intrepid ones took a bus that wound through and around mountains to the town of Voss, where the rafters began their trip. Its population may be just shy of 14,000, but Voss—a beautiful town surrounded by mountains, lakes and fast-flowing rivers—calls itself "The Extreme Sports Capital of Norway," and has an international reputation amongst those for whom pursuits such as skydiving, alpine skiing, base jumping, ice diving and snowboarding have great appeal.

JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2009 / VossBut it's not necessary to be an intrepid sports enthusiast to appreciate the sheer beauty of Voss and its surrounding area. The nearly two-hour drive from Bergen was filled with scenery hard to match anywhere in the world, from waterfalls to dramatic cliffs.

As those traveling to Voss by bus waited patiently in weather that was overcast and, on occasion, raining (the norm for this part of Norway), those on the rafts gradually made their way to a bridge, from which non-participants could live vicariously through their new-found friends. With drops as high as 1.5 meters in fast-moving water, the rafters had to undergo some extensive training before hitting the rapids, to ensure that if someone went overboard (someone did), it would be possible to bring him/her back aboard the raft. With such an early morning wake-up for the rafters after a late night at Nattjazz, it was a grueling but energizing experience.

JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2009 / Whitewater Rafting

As the rafters returned to their starting point, everyone was treated to a snack while watching a presentation meant to sell the idea of extreme sporting. It may not have made believers of everyone, but it did demonstrate the intrepid Norwegian combination of seemingly incompatible pursuits. The 2007 Vossa Jazz festival featured multidisciplinary performances, including one by keyboardist/composer Jon Balke
Jon Balke
Jon Balke
b.1955
piano
that took place on the shore of a lake, and included skydivers and scuba divers working in concert with the music. By combining the emotional impact of music with the thrill of extreme sporting, Vossa Jazz broke intriguing new ground.

JNiaN attendees were also treated to a brief performance by a group of high school aged musicians, who'd been playing jazz for about 18 months. Part of a newly funded project in Voss, it proves, as ever, that cultural education works. As the Smiletones quartet worked its way through standards by Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
, Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
1937 - 2001
sax, tenor
and Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
, the level of maturity was impressive, especially with trumpeter Børge Styve, who eschewed the virtuosic displays of technique so often heard from young players, for a sparer melodicism and compositional focus. Norwegian children are exposed, thanks to numerous arts programs funded by federal and municipal governments, to sophisticated music at an early age, and the investment continues to bear fruit as young players emerge with a surprisingly well-developed approach.

With everyone back together, a bus took the group to a hotel in Voss to sample a local champagne unique in its blend of various grapes, and a fine lunch where JNiaN participants had the opportunity to continue building on the social and professional relationships engendered by the trip. While things were running very late, there was still time for a short performance by two of Norway's most forward-thinking musicians: saxophonist Håkon Kornstad and singer Sidsel Endresen.

JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2009 / Sidsel EndresenJazzNorway in a Nutshell 2009 / Hakon Kornstad Sidsel Endresen and Håkon Kornstad

The two have intersected many times in the past, most recently on the Jazzland Community tour organized by Jazzland label head and keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft
Bugge Wesseltoft
Bugge Wesseltoft
b.1964
piano
, heard in a 2007 performance in Montreal, Canada and documented on the Jazzland Community (Jazzland, 2007) album. That the two could work so well together as a duo—combining Kornstad's remarkable use of electronics to create a cinematic cushion of sound with Endresen's rich voice and unprecedented acoustic techniques—was no surprise, but where the two went with the music certainly was.

While both demonstrated their individual strengths—Endresen's ability to articulate in seemingly impossible ways, taking fragments of words and twisting and turning them in new and unexpected ways; Kornstad combining a remarkable ability to create consonant multiphonics with other acoustic techniques, and blending them with looping to create expansive soundscapes—together their personal definers came together to create something new and distinct unto itself.

JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2009 / Voss SkydivingFrom song-based melodicism to jagged abstraction, this is a duo that will hopefully continue to work together in this format. Both are working on new discs (Kornstad's new release is, in fact, completed and will be out in the fall of 2009, Endresen's is likely to follow in 2010) and while it's a challenge to predict where they'll be, one thing is certain: by the time the albums are released, both musicians will have already surpassed any innovations documented on them, as has already been the case with Endresen's remarkable One (Sofa, 2007) and Kornstad's equally compelling Single Engine (Jazzland, 2007).

Before leaving for Bergen, JNiaN participants were treated to a short skydiving demonstration, as half a dozen skydivers came down from the sky, landing with precision in front of the audience. It was the perfect end to a day spent exploring yet another aspect of the intrepid Norwegian spirit.


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