Norwegian Jazz 101a: JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2009
While Nattjazz would continue on for another week, its final night for JNiaN participants was one of absurd humor. Keyboardist Jon Balke and his percussion-driven Batagraph (ECM, 2006) project teamed with two of Norway's most popular radio personalitiesEspen Beranek Holm and Are Kalvefor Pratagraf, a performance that combined quirky instrumental music with humorous spoken word. While understanding the Norwegian dialog would have made it all the more entertaining, much like Shellfish Man at Cornelius, the delivery was so perfectand so absurdthat it was funny, even to those who had no idea what was being said. And, as ever, Balke's music created a perfect foundation; a soundtrack that was both improvisational and structured to work in concert with Holm and Kalve's equally knotty and idiosyncratic spoken words.
Jon Balke (center)
With drummer Jon Fält clearly someone to watch with the Bobo Stenson Trio, and given his penchant for injecting a certain element of humor into the trio's music, it was no surprise to discover that his own group, the collective Lekverk, took that rife sense of humor even further. While the trioalso featuring pianist Adam Forkelid and bassist/primary spokesperson Putte Frick-Meijer Johandermixed a curious combination of near-slapstick humor and unmistakable musicianship on its debut, 21st Century Jump (Parallell, 2008), live the group took its comic sensibilities much further.
While some of its antics might be considered over the top, the fact is that the trio communicated on a deep level; so deep, in fact, that it was able to stop on a dime and go to unexpected, spontaneous flights of crazy dialog and instrumental sillinesswith Fält a commanding presence as he took an already warped and broken cymbal, attempting to tear a strip off it and, ultimately, using that strip as an alternate texture.
The trio veered into free territory, but with the kind of absurd slapdashery that was equal parts multi-instrumentalist Han Bennink and Buster Keaton. Forkelid might start a tune with a repeated low-end note on his piano only to be stopped by Fält, who would take a cymbal, place it on his head and pretend to be deep in prayer...but only for a moment, before the entire group would break down in laughter and then suddenly coalesce into a structured tune like the staggered pulse of "Var Inte Rä Nu," where a broad, intervallic piano line acted as the basis for a solo from Johander that demonstrated abilities far beyond those of simply a crazed comedian.
Lekverk l:r: Putte Frick-Meijer Johander, Jon Fält
While Lekverk's music seemed to be almost pieced together as an afterthought, it became clear, as the 90-minute set progressed, that there was far more consideration at play. Groove mixed with individual and collective free play to create a curious musical mix where structure veered onto a collision course with freedom steeped in multiple, self-evident traditions, even when brought together in such unusual combinations as to seem, on the surface, incongruous. Johander, Forkelid and Fält worked to create both unified and disparate sounds that made Lekverk's performance another high point of the festival.
As JNiaN participants met for the last time at the end of the evening of May 23 at the Key Club to reflect on the three days of exposure to the richness of Norwegian culture and say their goodbyes, it became clear that the trip had been more than just a junket. With new friendships forged, a deeper understanding of the multifaceted music that Norway has to offer, in addition to its culture and politics, JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2009 was, like its 2008 predecessor, a resounding success.
The following morning, as participants began dispersing to locations near and far, there was an overriding sense of camaraderie formed that was remarkable for a group that had only come together three days prior. While there were, of course, people who knew each other from past years and other festivals, there were also plenty of new bonds formed, and if JazzNorway in a Nutshell is about exposure to Norwegian culture in order to get it out into the world, equally it's about relationships that help keep not only Norwegian music alive and growing, but music from all cultures, as the diverse mix of people from around the world talked about the distinctive music scenes from their own countries.
Bergen, at 10:30 at night
A remarkable three days of music, scenery and conversation, JazzNorway in a Nutshell is rapidly becoming the benchmark for exposing a country's culture to the world. With each year bringing something new to the table, it's impossible to imagine what the 2010 edition will bring, but one thing is certain: it will be well worth the trip to find out.