Norwegian Road Trip, Part 5: Molde Jazz, Days 1-2
It's a long walk from Molde's main street to the Romsdal Museum, but at Molde Jazz, it's invariably worth it. And sometimes a venue can be almost as special as the concert that takes place within. Iranian expat Javid Afsari Rad's noon hour performance on July 20, at the Romsdal Museum Chapel, was one of those unexpected opportunities to be a part of something that may have seemed relatively small at the time, but which seemed to grow in significance with every thought after the show was over, and throughout the rest of the day.
Romsdalsmuseet Kapellet (Romsdal Museum Chapel)
The chapel is an old wooden structure with a door so low that even short people had to duck to enter, and with just the barest hint of electricity in the single small light that shone on Rad, who played the santur, a hammered dulcimer with eighteen sets of four strings. Accompanied by percussionist Kaveh Mahmoudyan, Rad sat on a plain chair in front of the pulpit of the chapel, with no PA. Other than that single light, the only other source of illumination was the lit candles spread around the small room, with five rows of divided pews and two more sets of benches at the back. Accommodating, at best, approximately 75 people, the room was full, as Rad and Mahmoudyan played material largely culled from the santurist's latest CD, Afarinesh (Jazzland, 2010), a solo album that, in some ways, compares to Laraaji's classic Days of Radiance (EG, 1980), but with a more middle eastern tonality and little of the overt sound processing that was fundamental to Laraaji's entry in ambient forefather Brian Eno's Ambient Music series.
Using two 72-stringed santursone tuned traditionally to a major key, but with the second and sixth tuned a quarter tone lower than the tempered scale; the other tuned to a minor keyRad combined virtuosity with shimmering, spacious lyricism. With Mahmoudyan's effortless supportall the more compelling for its surprising dynamic breadth within a relatively quiet range where his fingers were sometimes just rubbing his drum's skin, other times his nails merely scratching itRad's hauntingly transcendent music roamed from the minimalism-centric "Axis of Love" to "Flames," a minor-keyed tune that, in its deceptive simplicity, referenced some of classical maverick Erik Satie's more melancholic music.
Javid Afsari Rad
Rad is involved in many projects, and after the performance discussed some of them outside the chapel, where a day of almost constant rain threatened to spoil (but never succeeded) the second day of Molde Jazz, and certainly impacted attendance at saxophone giant Sonny Rollins' performance later in the day. Rad spoke, with enthusiasm, about more ambitious endeavors ranging from percussion groups like the Zarbang Ensemble to commissioned works for the Norwegian Broadcasting Orchestra., "But sometimes solo is good," he said humbly. Sometimes duo is good, too, and while Rad took plenty of solo spaceand gave Mahmoudyan an opportunity or two as wellit was the interplay between the two that created some of the performance's most mesmerizing moments. Rad's show will no doubt go down as one of the festival's sleeper hits; a small, unassuming but thoroughly memorable gem of a show that will keep those lucky enough to be in attendance talking about it long after Molde Jazz 2010 is over.
While Intro Jazz: Årets Unge Jazzmusikere 2010, which began two weeks previous at the 2010 Kongsberg Jazz Festival, wraps up at Molde with a winning group that will win several hundred thousand Norwegian Kroners towards furthering its career, a separate competition at Molde Jazz selected Magic Pocket as its winner in 2009. One of the stipulations of the win was a performance at the festival the following year, and so the group collaborated with the renowned Trondheim Jazz Orchestra for a commissioned show that demonstrated just how successful support for arts education is in Norway.
Magic Pocket & The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra
While Magic Pocket is relatively new, many of its members already have busy careers. Trombonist Erik Johannesen is the most senior member of the group; a member of fellow trombonist Helge Sunde's Ensemble Denada, whose 2009 date at Enjoy Jazz in Mannheim was an early favorite. He's also a busy member of Jaga Jazzist, whose One-Armed Bandit (Ninja Tune, 2010) is already a near-certain pick for one of the year's best, and whose show, a couple weeks back, at the 2010 Kongsberg Jazz Festival will go down as one of its most exhilarating. Tubaist Daniel Herskedal has just released his first album as a leader, City Stories, while trumpeter Hayden Powell, in addition to his own quartet, is a member of hip-hop group Brother K, as well as the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra that was recruited to augment Magic Pocket for its Molde performance. Drummer Erik Nylander is a busy sideman with violinist Ola Kvernberg, whose Folk (Jazzland, 2009) was an unexpectedand most pleasantsurprise, as well as working in Tore Brunborg's saxophone trio with bassist Ole Morten Vågan, last heard on Lucid Grey (DRAVLE, 2009).
Percussionist Terje Isungset with Magic Pocket & The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra consists of a revolving door of musicians, most of whom have studied at the famed conservatory where significant artists including Arve Henriksen and Hakon Kornstad studied. For Magic Pocket's performance, ten more musicians were recruited, including Ensemble Denada saxophonist Nils Jansen, who brought out his bass saxophone in addition to the more manageably-sized alto. A younger member of the Orchestra, but one whose career is on the ascendancy with the duo Albatrosh and its debut, Seagull Island (Inner Ear, 2009), was tenor saxophonist André Roligheten, while Swedish drummer Jon Fält and Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset fleshed out a group that could have been top-heavy on the rhythm side but, with Isungset often creating unique textures with his oddly configured kit and collection of stones, was as light as the music required, and as propulsive as the charts demanded.
There was also representation from post-bop group Zanussi Five in the form of saxophonist Eirik Hegdal, who made Z5's performance at Kongsberg's Silver City Sounds junket all the more successful. Fleshed out by younger artists including the especially notable Hanne Rekdal, whose diminutive stature was made all the more so by her choice of instruments (bass flute, bassoon), which were almost as tall as she was. And no Norwegian large ensemble would be complete without some electronics representation, with Anita Kaasbøll's voice augmented with live electronics, and Atle Selnes Nielsen's onstage mad scientist's rig only augmented further by an odd sculpture in the middle of the hall at Kulturhuset that, partway through the performance, came to life and began to project sounds from speakers located at its base.
With the resurgence of large ensembles in North America, it's important to note that they never actually went awaynot, at least, in Norway, where its brass band tradition has created a popular appreciation for bigger configurations, despite the same logistical challenges of touring them. Coupled with the creativity stemming from a commitment to not just instrumental excellence, but musical innovation, it's no surprise that Magic Pocket did, indeed, use Trondheim Jazz Orchestra as an orchestra, and not any kind of conventional big band. The music ranged from amorphous color to fervent pulse, with the bevy of horns played by everyoneincluding, at times, two tubas and a strange instrument that looked like a trombone on top, but had a large series of valves running perpendicular to it. Shades of contemporary classical music, Norwegian tradition and hints of swing were perpetuated throughout the show, which received enthusiastic applause and hollers of approval from an audience that may have been stacked with families and friends to be sure, but was populated by regular attendees as well. Everyone gave the group not just a seemingly endless round of applause at the end, but a standing ovation as wella rarity in Norway, as opposed to North America, where it's become de rigueur.
The show was being recorded by engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug of Rainbow Studio in Oslo, and there will be a release of the project within a few months on Trondheim Jazz Orchestra's own imprint, MNJ Records. With writing this good, and a performance that combined the serious with the absurdmost notably in the shape of drummer Fält, who seems to bring a mischievous energy to every project he touchesthe recording cannot be released soon enough.