Norwegian Road Trip, Part 2: Kongsberg Jazz, July 9-10, 2010
[Editors Note: From July 6 to July 26, 2010, All About Jazz Managing Editor John Kelman will travel throughout Norway to cover both the Kongsberg Jazz Festival (also participating in Silver City Sounds) and Molde Jazz. He'll also spend a week between the two famous festivals in Oslo, where he'll check out the scene, talk to musicians and labels, and visit the legendary Rainbow Studio for a look around and an interview with engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug, who has participated in hundreds of ECM recordings. He'll publish every second or third day, so be sure to follow him as he goes from the east coast to the west, in search of Norwegian artists known and unknown].
Each morning, before heading back to town to catch the day's shows at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival, Silver City Sounds sponsors a brief program at the hotel in Storaas, about 20km outside. The majority of the sessions were sponsored by Music Export Norway, and organization devoted to spreading the word about Norwegian culture to the world. With attendees from all over Europe and farther abroad, it was an ideal opportunity to also demonstrate the country's commitment to ensuring that archival material doesn't get lost over the years. It's hard to imagine that, before the 1960s, Norway was an entirely different country. The discovery of oil may have facilitated many thingsincluding the country's remarkable infrastructurebut improvements to roads, rail, education and health care are not particularly revolutionary or unique. How the country applies some of that money to the perpetuation of culture at a level virtually unheard ofespecially in towns the size of Kongsbergmost definitely is.
For a specific example, one only need look as far as a recent AAJ interview with Kristiansand resident, Punkt Festival co-Artistic Director and live sampler Jan Bang, who describes a unique program called Cultiva, where interest on funds earned through the sale of excess electricity have been used to provide startup funding for festivals like Punkt, not to mention making it possible to build a new arts center to replace the current Agder Theatre that will, opening in 2012, more than double the capacity of its current venue. Travel around the country and it's possible to find all kinds of cultural initiatives, such as a large number of commissions awarded every year by many of the 500-plus festivals that take place across the country.
If ever there was a country to define the term "thinking outside the box," it's Norway. Jaga Jazzist drummer Martin Horntveth explained, in an informal conversation before the group's July 10 show at Kongsberg's unique Tubaloon venue, how, with no major label support to fund the recording sessions for its latest release, One-Armed Bandit (Ninja Tune, 2010), Jaga solved the problem with a novel approach. Reaching out to a number of festivals, Jaga asked them to essentially pay for future shows well in advance, so that they group would be able to use that money to make a new record, and then perform it at the participating festivals. That's what happened in 2009, with the group's performance at Molde Jazz; Jaga's first performance in four year, and a show that, in part, helped the group pay for the cost of recording One-Armed Banditno insignificant cost, given the size of the group and complexity of the music.
But support for the arts hasn't just been about support from municipal and federal agencies, nor has it been only about the unparalleled number of commissions granted to Norwegian artists each year by festivals such as Molde, Kongsberg, Natt Jazz and Vossa Jazz; there have been private investors who have made a tremendous difference; nobody, perhaps, more significant than Sonia Henie, a famous figure skater who also made it big in Hollywood in the first half of the 20th century, and it's her contribution to the Oslo sceneand, ultimately, the country as a whole, that was the subject of a presentation given by Lars Finborud on July 9 at Storaas, for Silver City Sounds attendees.
- July 9: Heine Onstad Arts Center and the Norwegian Jazz Scene
- July 9: Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers
- July 9: Tortoise
- July 9: Jan Erik Vold / Arild Andersen / Bill Frisell
- July 10: Public Interview with Håkon Kornstad and Martin Horntveth
- July 10: Håkon Kornstad / Skúli Sverrison / John Hollenbeck
- July 10: Jaga Jazzist
- July 10: Kongsberg Ends
Perhaps the most tragic thing about Onstad donating a large sum of money for the creation of the Henie Onstad Arts Centre in Oslo, opening in 1968, was that she never lived long enough to truly see how important it would become. Recently, the Centre's name has appeared on the radar of fans of British '70s group Soft Machine with Reel Recordings' release of Live At Henie Onstad Arts Centre 1971one of the best live archival finds to date of the classic Softs lineup featuring saxophonist Elton Dean, keyboardist Mike Ratledge, bassist Hugh Hopper and drummer/vocalist Robert Wyatt (for whom this show would turn out to be one of his last before leaving the group).
Finborud explained how, at the time the Centre was built, Oslo had few places for live jazzClub 7 and the Monk Museum. While international artists would play at the Centre, its focus was very much on the burgeoning Norwegian scene, a quick look at some of its early shows saying all that needs be said: saxophonist Jan Garbarek with poet Jan Erik Vold, bassist Arild Andersen and Finnish drummer Edward Vesala; Svein Finnerud Trio (despite being lesser known outside Norway, a tremendous influence on modern artists including saxophonist Håkon Kornstad and pianist Håvard Wiik); vocalist Karin Krog; and guitarist Terje Rypdal.
Throughout the course of Finborud's hour-long session, filled with educational and entertaining images and videos, it became clear just how committed the country is to preserving its cultural heritage, with thousands of hours of digitized music, video, images and documentationmuch of it available in the English language as well as in Norwegian. In addition to his work as archivist for NRK (the national public broadcasting organization), Finborud is involved in two labelsPlastic Strip and Prisma Records, labels devoted to releasing archival Scandinavian music and live recordings from Henie Onstad Arts Center, respectivelythe latter not always featuring Norwegian artists, but still documenting the emergence of a vibrant Norwegian scene that has only continued to grow, seemingly exponentially, in the 40 years since the Arts Centre opened.
Busing into Kongsberg, the early afternoon was spent at a Press Lunch at Bergseminaret's garden on Kirketorget. A mix of food, drink, further networking opportunities and just plain socializing set a fine mood for the concerts to come.