Norwegian Jazz 101c: JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2011
With an outrageously early pickup for the airport coming at 4:30am the following morning, a late last night for Natt Jazz and JNiaN was simply out of the question. Still, it was equally impossible to leave without catching at least a few minutes of Farmers Market. Headed by multi-instrumentalist Stian Carstensenwho delivered a mindboggling solo set at Polar Jazz 2011, above the Arctic Circle in Longyearbyen, that combined outrageous virtuosity with the timing of a great comedianFarmers Market hasn't released an album since 2008's Surfin' USSR (Kirkelig Kulturverkstad), but the group continues to be a live favorite. Driven by bassist Finn Guttormsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad, Farmers' shows draw on a large repertoire, blending original music with whacky reworks of songs by artists like Stevie Wonder and Paul Desmondtheir infamous version of "Take Five" on the group's aptly titled Speed/Balkan/Boogie (Kirkelig Kulturverkstad, 1995) not only ultimately stretched to 11/8, but posited a distinctive Bulgarian tone thanks to the guest appearance of Georgi Andréev, playing the bowed Bulgarian gadulka.
There were no gadulkas to be seen at Farmers Market's packed show in Sardinen; instead, just the core groupalong with Carstensen (on electric guitar, accordion, banjo and pedal steel), Guttormsen and Vespestad, also featuring guitarist Nils-Olav Johansen and Bulgarian saxophonist Trifon Trifonovkicked things into high gear from the get-go, with fusion energy that recalled John McLaughlin's second Mahavishnu Orchestra of the mid-to-late-1970s. Like Carstensen solo, but on even more steroids, the group navigated knotty themes played over almost impossible rhythmic landscapes...but as complicated as the arrangements were, they were played with such ease, that even the odd-metered tunes grooved with booty-shaking energy. Farmers Market is as much a quirky dance band as it is a comedy act, all supported by effortless virtuosity and playing that is deeper than the group's crazy veneer sometimes suggests. Another example of making music that has broad appeal while, at the same time, avoiding any kind of artistic compromise.
Sadly, however, it was necessary to leave the show early, head to the Key Club for a quick goodbye to a few friends, and return to the hotel to pack and catch a paltry three hours sleep before meeting a small group of Nutshellers who also had to catch the early flight from Bergen to Frankfurt. But, riding in the van to the airport with friends from Italy, Poland and Sarajevo, everyone was still strangely energized about a trip that may have lasted less than 100 hours from start to finish, but that demonstrated, yet again, the hospitality of JazzNorway in a Nutshell, the remarkable breadth of the Norwegian music scene, and the enduring value of relationships built around Natt Jazz.
Every trip, every festival has its purpose and its unique value, but JazzNorway in a Nutshell manages, in ways like no other, to reaffirm and expand a growing network of people in an industry that may be marginalized, but which remains strong and committed. After a mere four days with this remarkable group of peoplebrought together for the purpose of spreading the word about Norwegian music, but ultimately accomplishing much more by creating friendships and business relationships that continue to bear fruit throughout the year anyone who came experiencing doubts about the value of their work was, despite being tremendously sleep-deprived, refreshed, reinvigorated and re-inspired. JazzNorway in a Nutshell's greatest success is its gradual expansion of this global network, made possible in the most relaxed, informal and amicable way possible, as the event created a focal point of common interest, made all the stronger by the personal relationships built over four days of shared music, information, experienceand fun.