Trondheim Jazz Festival: May 9-13, 2012
One of the challenges of contemporary jazz festivals is to support its locals. Some pay this concept lip service, providing evidence that they do, indeed, give work to local musicians, but a closer look revealing that the venues in which they are booked, often far from the main stages, do little to expose these players to the festival's broader and sometimes international audience.
Not so for the Trondheim Jazz Festival; amidst the international acts, the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra delivered a full version of the Sidewalk Comedy that they had performed, in abbreviated form (and without all the costumed theatrics), in Bremen, Germany at Jazzahead! earlier this year, while groups like Moskus and Torstein Lavik Larsen Ekspress were given prime real estate at the Dokkhuset restaurant. But it was one of the second-to-last evening's performances that demonstrated both the festival's commitment to up-and-coming musicians and a future for jazz that, in Trondheim at least, is in no threat of extinction.
Jazz Students Go Difference brought together a choice selection of students from NTNU for a week of rehearsals with trombonist Erik Johannessenan NTNU alum now living in Oslo and performing with groups including Jaga Jazzist and rising star, singer/songwriter Susanne Sundfor, and who has just released his first album as a leader, Inkblots (2012), on Petter Vågan's Gigafon label. Johannessen's task? To create contemporary arrangements of music by 1960s/70s Norwegian pop group Differenceunknown beyond its country's borders, but a popular group back in the day, with a number of hits that included both original songs and its own versions of music by Procol Harum, The Beatles, The Moody Blues and others.
At one of the first rehearsals on Wednesday, May 9, it was clear that these were students well on their way to finding their own voices, made all the clearer just three days later at the festival's final show at Dokkhuset. Johannessen was clearly an ideal choice to bring this group of musicians to performance level in short order, and with a new book of songs. Everyone received a chance to shine, with early marks going to guitarist Rune Nielsen, whose solo during the set-opener set a high bar for the rest of his band mates.
And meet it they did. From saxophonists Martin Myhre Olsen (alto) and Olav Slagsvold (tenor), to trumpeter Jakob Eri Myhre and tubaist Peder Simonsen, the horn section proved capable of punchy funk and lusher landscapes. Violinist Adrian Løseth Waade drew particular applause for his impressive mid-set solo on "Lady Universe," while singer Kari Eskild Havenstrøm suggested that, despite having a smaller role in this largely instrumental performance, she was capable of making every moment she had count, with a voice that was sweet without being saccharine. Pianist Kjetil André Mulelid, drummer Tord Vangen and bassist Elise Bergman stoked the group's engine room, with Vangen particularly impressive throughout; but when Bergman finally got a chance to solo on the closing tune of the set, she proved herself every bit as capable as those around her.
It's no small challenge to adapt music that, decades ago, was a part of Norwegian musical history, and which was clearly known to many of those in attendance, but Johannessen's arrangements managed to respect the writing while bringing it into the 21st century for a group of young musiciansmany of whom will, no doubt, be heard from in the future. While the final day of the Trondheim Jazz Festival was to feature Bernhofta performer whose star is on a serious ascendancy not just in Norway, but increasingly around the rest of Europeending this year's coverage with Jazz Students Go Difference was, in many ways, the perfect conclusion to a festival whose 2012 edition, both through its concerts and its first Jazz Summit, looked to address many of the challenges facing jazz today, and did so with resounding success.
All Photos: John Kelman