Molde Jazz: Day 1, July 13, 2009
Arve Henriksen Cartography / Bugge Wesseltoft
July 13, 2009
Descending by plane into Molde airport, it's difficult not to be in awe of the geography surrounding this small town of 25,000 people. Depending on the source, Molde is surrounded by anywhere from 87 to 222 mountains; of course, much of this has to do with the definition of what a mountain is, and where one ends and the next one begins. Regardless, the topography is stunning, a truth made only more compelling on the ground, where a long stretch of coastline reveals more mountains than can easily be counted, in a town that, as is the case with so many small Norwegian locales, possesses the kind of access to culture that would be impossible to support in most (if not all) similarly sized North American towns.
It may not be a festival with the same size and attendance as the recently completed Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, but as Norway's largest jazz festival, Molde Jazz possesses a similar vibe. Like Montreal, streets are closed down, but the party atmosphere is a little different. With kiosks set up down the town's main street selling everything from CDs and food to fur and African percussion instruments, it's a small, self-contained village that attracts people to ticketed and free performances that take place at 14 different venues/sites.
Over the course of six days, Molde Jazz will present over 70 shows featuring some of Norway's most innovative artistsamongst them, trumpeters Arve Henriksen and Mathias Eick, pianists/keyboardists Bugge Wesseltoft, Ståle Storløkken and Christian Wallumrød, and groups Huntsville, Supersilent and Jaga Jazzistas well as an equally significant roster from abroad, including pianists Cecil Taylor and Marilyn Crispell, guitarist Mary Halvorson, singers Jamie Cullum and Melody Gardot, trumpeters Tomasz Stanko and Ambrose Akinmusire, and saxophonists Joshua Redman and Tony Malaby. There's even some beyond jazz on offer, including much-anticipated performances by Marianne Faithful and Leonard Cohen.
But it's even more than that. With throngs of people crowding the streets from early in the day to early the next morningwith night only falling fully around midnight and the sun already back on the rise by 4:00 AM, it's easy to keep partying around the clockmusicians even travel to Molde from distant destinations to busk on the street, playing everything from world music to folk music to traditional jazz. And while Norway's international reputation is, perhaps, largely considered for its innovative, forward-thinking approach to jazz, one look at the CD kiosks and one listen to the youth band parading down the street early in the afternoon of the first day of Molde's 49th edition and it becomes crystal clear that the jazz tradition, in its more conventional sense, also remains alive and well.
When the ticketed shows are over, the party continues in the streets, with live performances continuing outdoors until well after 1:00 AM, and bars and clubs packed until well after that. If Montreal is like being on another planet, Molde is like being in a parallel universeone where hotels have stunning performance spaces, mountains can be seen peeking through even the densest cloud cover while walking between venues that are never more than 10 minutes from each other, and fans of the music traverse the broad age range that some (clearly mistakenly) believe is missing in jazz. No jazz festival for grey hairs this; Molde Jazz is proof that it's possible to draw a younger audience without sacrificing the integrity of the music. It's always been more than a little condescending to consider jazz and improvised music as something that needs to be dumbed down for the youth market, and Norway has been proving, for over four decades, that arts funding to performance and education can and will result in a remarkable upsurge of sophisticated young artists.
Molde has its own equivalent of Montreal's By Invitation series, naming an artist in residence each year to bring a series of showssome with existing groups, others representing first time encounters. This year the artist in residence is trumpeter/vocalist Arve Henriksen, and with Cartography (ECM, 2008) being both his most fully realized album to date and one that is expanding his reach to an international audience, it's a strong choice. Henriksen will appear with his Cartography group, the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble and Supersilentthe groundbreaking noise improv group's first appearance as a trio following the departure of drummer Jarle Vespestad. He'll also perform in duet with Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur, and launch a unique performance featuring Cartography band mate/live sampler Jan Bang, keyboardist Ståle Storløkken and ECM recording group Trio Mediaeval. And for those with strong constitutions, whether it be after a night of little sleep or none whatsoever, Henriksen will deliver a unique performance at 7:00AM on the last day of the festival, featuring one of Norway's most influential artists, keyboardist/composer Jon Balke, alongside percussionist Terje Isungset, cellist Svante Henryson and dancer Therese Skauge.