Norwegian Road Trip, Part 1: Kongsberg Jazz, July 7-8, 2010
Each day, Silver City Sounds programs a morning event, ranging from speeches to interviews to live performances. For its second day, following breakfast and more opportunities to become acquainted with its participants, SCS hosted a performance by bassist Per Zanussi and his group, Per Zanussi Five. Originally intended to be an outdoor performance, a little morning rain pushed the show indoors, but in many ways it was just as well, as this was an all-acoustic performance that benefitted, sonically, from being in a smaller, more intimate space.
Zanussi first hit the radar as the bassist for Wibuteea group that, in the early part of the millennium, also provided a springboard for saxophonist Håkon Kornstad. But while Kornstad continues to mine the nexus where technology and music meet, Zanussi has gone all-acoustic since forming Zanussi Five and releasing its self-titled debut in 2005 on the Swedish Moserobie label. While the lineup is different and there's a greater edge, Zanussi's closest frame of reference is legendary bassist Dave Holland and his work of the past decade, in particular the way that Zanussi Five grooves, even when the players are heading towards more extreme territory.
With drummer Gard Nilssensurely one of the hardest working drummers in NorwayZanussi has shaped a chordless band that still possessed, with three horns (baritone/alto saxophonist Eirik Hegdal, tenor/soprano saxophonist Jørgen Mathisen and alto/sopranino saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm), enough linear voices to layer harmony, whether it was over the irregular-metered, riff-driven groove "The Afreet"with Zanussi and Gard drive a gradually intensifying, mid-tempo pulse that built to a potent climaxor other material where the writing was almost classical in its detailed voicingsthough forward motion was rarely far away.
From left: Gard Nilssen, Per Zanussi, Eirik Hegdal
Jørgen Mathisen, Rolf-Erik Nystrøm
A collective of superlative soloists, most of whom also have albums out under their own name, Zanussi Five worked its way through a handful of tunes culled largely from the group's latest CD, Ghost Dance (Moserobie, 2010). Performing with a combination of simmering heat and boiling over intensity, Zanussi Five's short set provided a terrific sampling of what was to come later in the day, when the group played a full set at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival.
A generous buffet-style lunch followed, and then it was on the bus to return to Kongsberg for the second day of the festival and 15 shows to choose from, ranging from electronica to middle eastern-centric folk music, free bop, intimate duos and more.
In a time when support for jazz and other music is dwindling, Norway stands as one of the most supportive countries in the world with a remarkable number of organizations formed to foster a strong local scene, as well as getting the word out to the world. With hundreds of festivals each year, the smaller network of jazz festivals is also connected, with individual festivals working in conjunction with each other on specific projects.
One such project is Årets Unge Jazzmusikere, where eight promising young groups are given the opportunity to perform in front of an audience at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival. Four finalists are chosen to move on to Molde Jazz, a little over a week later. The winner is awarded a package worth several hundred thousand Kroners, to facilitate touring, recording and other activities. It's this kind of support for younger jazz artistssupport which, in fact, starts early on with music programs in grade school, moves on to some of the most creative degree programs at universities like Trondheim, and ultimately to contests such as this and a budget for overall arts supportthat has positioned Norway as one of the world's most forward-reaching music communities.
Two performances on the second day of Kongsberg Jazz Festival demonstrated just how broad the scope of these young artists is. A duo featuring guitarist Per Arne Ferne and pianist Per Gunnar Juliusson delivered a 45-minute set of intimate writing and gentle improvisational acumen. In some ways related aesthetically to 1970s ECM albums like guitarists Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie's Sargasso Sea (1976) and Towner's duet disc with vibraphonist Gary Burton, Matchbook (1975), as well as some of the pastoral ambience of saxophonist Jan Garbarek's disc with pianist Art Lande, Red Lanta (1977).
Ferne, whose debut album with the Flux quintetPeninsulator (Jazzaway, 2010)is an exciting combination of fervent energy and more angular free play, performed here with considerably more restraint and an inherent lyricism. With a deep hollow body guitar, his tone was warm and clean, not unlike Jim Hall, whose economical approach was a clear touchstone for the young guitarist, along with established players like Pat Metheny and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Juliusson also played with an admirably spare approach, and the two musicians interacted on a level surprisingly deep for players of such a young age.
Cinnamon ReSource was an altogether different beast; a sextet featuring trumpeter Marius Gjersø, tenor saxophonist Svein Magnus Furu, keyboardist Øystein Skar, guitarist Kim Johannesen, bassist Sebastian Haugen and drummer Jakop Janssønn. In contrast to Ferner/Juliusson's distinct songs, Cinnamon ReSource performed one long, continuous set that moved from piece to piece, with intriguing segues in between.
An additional differentiator was the group's use of electronics. Skar's synths were no surprise, nor were Johannesen's array of effects pedals; but both Furu and Gjersø integrated effects processors into their individual sounds, creating loops and altered sonics to give the group a broad aural landscape.
From left: Marius Gjersø, Jakop Janssøn, Sebatian Haugen
Svein Magnus Furu, Kim Johannesen, Øystein Skar
The music ranged from ethereal interludes to more propulsive, backbeat-driven songs featuring strong themes and a certain pop-like sensibility. Johannesen was particularly impressive; a player with no shortage of ideas, and an ability to create a seamless foundationalongside Skarwhen the horns took the lead, but also delivering one of the set's most compelling solos early on, where he combined rapid runs with brief dissonances.
When the set was over, the four finalists were announced. Along with other groups, including the duo motsol, Steiner Aadnekvam Quintet, and Fairfist, Fenner/Juiliusson will be heading to Molde. It's unfortunate that Cinnamon ReSource didn't make it, but hopefully the group will continue, as there was plenty of promise in its performance.