Kongsberg Jazz Festival, July 6-9, 2011
Meanwhile, in the city's lovely old church, such current Euro-fest circuit-makers such as the duo of Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman and Charles Lloyd's New Quartet held forth, savoring the tailoring to the venue's reverential ambience. The Redman-Mehldau duo is a fascinating study in contrasts and a case of the former sideman showing up the former employer: while Redman essentially gave the pianist his first important gig, years back, Mehldau is a much deeper thinker and player than the saxophonist. While Redman's solos were fine and virtuosic, borrowing from the right sources and punching the right crowd-pleasing buttons, Mehldau's solos repeatedly plumbed new depths and took on a new character, time after time. Still one of the most exciting voices in jazz, Mehldau is on a roll at the moment, refusing to lapse into formula and experimenting with new notions of pianism. It behooves us to stay tuned to his evolving artistic story.
Charles Lloyd New Quartet
On the next evening, Lloyd's innately reflective, determinedly light and lyrical post-Coltrane quartet stylings nicely suited the room, as expected, from his more jazz and gospel-hued fare to a Brian Wilson's great song "Caroline, No." As has been reported, Lloyd's current line-up is one of his best yet, with versatile piano dynamo Jason Moran joining the supple rhythmic foundation of bassist Reuben Rogers and the band's real anchor, drummer Eric Harland. Despite the strengths of the group, we get the sense of repressed potential and reports from a feistier dynamic in this band. Balladic and impressionistic smoldering is nice, yes, but more burning, please.
Over in the Kongsberg kino, easier-going Scandinavian-grounded sounds included the mostly enticing and understated Danish singer Cæcilie Norby (in a electro-aided duet with her husband, bassist Lars Daniellsson) and vet Norwegian bassist-bandleader Arild Anderson. Taking on charts ranging from swinging post-hard bop excursions to airy inventions marked by ECM-ish poise, Andersen's group was boldly equipped with good players of different geographical roots, including impressive Scotsman saxophonist Tommy Smith, German trumpeter Markus Stockhausen and, as a disarmingly effective last-minute piano sub, the fine Polish player Marcin Wasilewski.
Just behind the church, moving from the sacred to the populist profane, the large outdoor "Tubaloon" compound pumped out groovier goods. (This stage is one of the festival's most important money-generating components, which helps fund the more obscure and artful elements in the program, but which suffered the sogginess of unseasonable rain this year). Under the epic-scaled inflatable "Tubaloon" edifice over the stage, we heard famed progeny actsnew, next generation Afro-beat leader Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 and blues singer Shemekiah Copelandand the closing night was a cross-cultural summit of fringe rockers, between the mesmerizing yowl and simmer of the Norwegian band Motorpsycho and fluke hit American alt-rock sensation Primus. Primal forces met jamming atmospherics and controlled psycho tendencies, to the delight of a bobbing and thrashing umbrella-wielding crowd.
As it happened, rock met and mutated jazz in fascinating ways at this festival, from the intricate but also righteously rough-edged Chrome Hill to the distinctively, sonically raucous Zu. In this setting, Zu, rocking the Energy Mill house at midnight, was a double-barreled group combining rock rhythm section (with Nilssen-Love sitting in as a sub drummer, to refreshing ends) and double bari-saxophones, compounded by the gusty guest from Sweden, Mats Gustafsson.
Most of this offbeat brand of jazz took place off the beaten path, poetically enough, on a side street paralleling the august river. Det Lille Extra is a historic (and according to some reports, formerly haunted) large house turned restaurant and conference house, where packed houses were regaled with music of ferocity and detailed nuance. From the former category came Brötzmann's dazzling and new-ish out-rock-jazz furnace of a trio, with Nilssen-Love and bassist Massimo Pupillo, while the latter, subtler mode of free playing was epitomized in the organically manipulative Will Guthrie trio show, and also a limber, listening-centric, and mostly British fearsome foursome, with Guy, Parker, drummer Paul Lytton and pianist Agustí Fernández.