Norwegian Road Trip, Part 1: Kongsberg Jazz, July 7-8, 2010
Meeting the rest of the delegates at the Kongsberg Rail Station for a drive to Storaas, where Silver City Sounds is being hosted, it became apparent just how far Norway is extending its reach to recruit new advocates of the music. Promoters from Italy, record label and club owners from England, festival directors from Germany, journalists from Canada...the list goes on. Some have attended SCS before, and are meeting up again with old friends; others may be new to SCS, now in its third year, but have encountered participants during travels elsewhere; and some are new to the country, the people, and the music. That everyone is a passionate music lover is a given; that they're fascinated by the Norwegian scene also a certainty.
After a brief chance to check in to the old hotel, and grab a bite to eat and a drink, everyone was invited to a room where five tables seated all the delegates. In a version of speed dating, SCS and Music Export Norway Project Manager Øyvind Skjerven Larsen kept delegates on trackeach table, seating five or six people, had ten minutes for its participants to introduce themselves to one another. A clap of Larsen's hands and it was time to move on to the next table and do it over again. After five sessions, almost everyone had the chance to briefly meet, an informal way of kick-starting relationships that will, no doubt, grow over the coming days.
Then it was back in the bus to Kongsberg, for the first evening of the festival. An early show at Kongsberg Kinoa small multiplex cinemabrought saxophonist David Murray from the US to play with Lonely Woman, a Norwegian quintet led by bassist Tina Asmundsen. Also featuring woodwind multi-instrumentalist Vidar Johansen, trumpeter Roy Nikolaisen, pianist Rune Klakegg and drummer Svein "Chriko" Christiansen, the group proved that the mainstream jazz tradition remains alive and well in Norway, as the quintet plus Murray swung its way through an opening original that swung hard and provided plenty of solo opportunity for all. Unfortunately, while the group played crediblyand Murray, with characteristic fireit was a safe performance. Perhaps there needs to be advocates of the tradition in Norway, but in the case of Lonely Woman and its relatively sparsely attended set, there appeared to be a big difference between playing the notes and truly meaning them.
Black Jazz may mean one thing to most traditional jazzers, but to Norway's Shiningand the packed house of fans at its 11:00PM show at Energimølla, an old red brick building that's been converted into a two-tiered performance spaceit means something else entirely. Led by guitarist/vocalist/saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby and also including powerhouse drummer Torstein Lofthusnow going only by their last namesShining began life as an edgy, rock-inflected but still clearly jazz band, but has gradually moved away from its clearer roots towards a kind of high octane, metallicized hybrid, loaded with growling vocals, thundering bass, even more powerful drums and relentlessly screaming guitars.
From left: Hermansen, Kreken, Moen, Munkeby, Lofthus
With Black Jazz (Indie Recordings, 2010)also the name of its latest CDShining's definition of a term so closely associated with an African-American tradition and redefined it in a Norwegian context. Norway, after all, has some of the world's biggest metal fans and a huge death metal scene, so it was remarkable (but not necessarily surprising) to see, in a crowd of predominantly young faces, no shortage of gray hairs and no hairs. Metal, at least in North America, tends to largely attract teenage males, but in Kongsberg there were also plenty of women to be found amongst a demographic ranging from late teens to fifties and sixties, all of them pumping their arms enthusiastically when Munkeby encouraged them during the set's one cover, the extreme version of King Crimson's iconic "21st Century Schizoid Man," that closes the Black Jazz album.
Shining hit the stage running and didn't slow down for its entire setan hour, plus another ten minutes or so for an encore; short, perhaps, but so exciting and energizing that, by its end, the audience was as sated as the group. The music came almost entirely from Black Jazz, and while the album captures much of the group's energy, it's still best experienced live. With swirling, blue-tinged lighting, nuclear blasts of blinding light, and the occasional strobe lighting, Shining's show was as exciting to watch as it was to hear. There was plenty of rock-posturing, but make no mistake: as much as Shining has morphed into a progressive metal band whose only relationship to jazz now rests with Munkeby's improvisational acumen (especially on saxophone) this is no "three-chord wonder" music; instead, with constant twists and turns, shifting meters and complex arrangements, this was music for which most musicians would have required charts to navigate.
Not Shining, howeverand, of course, having a set of music stands onstage would have been antithetical to the show's fundamental spirit. As unfailingly tight as the group was in delivering its knotty, head-banging message, it performed with sheer and unfettered abandon. The activity on stage rarely let up, with guitarist Hermansen affording Munkeby the freedom to switch to saxophone and EVI (electronic valve instrument, a MIDI-d wind instrument) without losing the crunching guitar that so defines the group's sound. And when the two played together, bolstered by bassist Kreken during passages of almost impossibly fast riffs, played in unisonand made all the more astounding for their shifting bar linesit elevated the show even further, turning up the heat in a room that as already hot and sweaty.
It's hard to know what King Crimson co-founder/guitarist Robert Fripp would think of Shining's version of "21st Century Schizoid Man," but with Munkeby's screaming saxophone, Lofthus' turbulent drums, Moen's industrial keyboards, and ear-crunching guitar and bass from Hermansen and Kreken respectively, it far more viscerally reflected the paranoid intent of the original, first heard on Crimson's groundbreaking debut, In the Court of the Crimson King (DGM Live, 1969). Munkeby wailed on tenor with a screaming, cathartic energy that suggested how the late Albert Ayler might have sounded, had he grown up in a different time, a different place and a different culture. It was one of many moments that proved Shining remains, at its core, a jazz group, albeit one that has, over the years and through the course of albums including Grindston (Rune Grammofon, 2007) and In the Kingdom of Kitch You Will Be a Monster (Rune Grammofon, 2005), dispensed with virtually every last scrap of orthodoxy.