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Music from Norway: Just How Important Is It, Really?

By Published: November 10, 2013
Clearly the capacity to emulate or extrapolate on the American tradition is there, and groups like Atomic, The Deciders and Motif, along with trumpeter Gunhlild Seim (who has recorded with notable Americans including pianist Marilyn Crispell) and younger groups like Hanna Paulsberg Concept continue to shape cornerstones of the American jazz tradition into something....else. Just as saxophonist John Surman—a British expat now living in Oslo with his wife, singer Karin Krog—brought experiences gained as a youth in boys choirs into his more decidedly (but particularly broad-scoped) jazz-centric music, so, too does Arve Henriksen bring the influence of choral music into his own expansive approach to improvised music and a reverse-engineered compositional approach.

And if Bugge Wesseltoft's recent look at songs from the Great American Songbook, Songs (Jazzland, 2012) took them to much slower, quieter places than might be expected—a consequence of the calming influence of millennial Norwegian forests that also had a place in Eple Trio's In the Clearing / In the Cavern (NORCD, 2011), a similar but different concept of taking well-known tunes and slowing them down—way down—brought singer Solveig Slettahjell to prominence with her Slow Motion Orchestra, while singer Live Maria Roggen's work with Come Shine was considerably more reverent.

But the real question is: why should Norwegians continue to emulate the American tradition, to the exclusion of the formative influences that have shaped who they are? The answer is simple: they shouldn't. If the Great American Songbook is not a part of their DNA, and even as they study notable American jazz artists to gain some familiarity with the vernacular, should they not also create music that, while improvisational in nature, reflects their own backgrounds and roots? Saxophonist Trygve Seim has contributed some of the most forward-thinking contemporary medium ensemble music to the jazz canon, with elements ranging from Carla Bley to Edward Vesala (and, perhaps more significantly, Iro Haarla); but while improvisation is built into Seim's largely rigorous, through-composed music, it's not the freewheeling kind, with extended extemporization; instead, it's a crucial component of the music, but oftentimes only a small handful of bars—sometimes, even, just a single bar...or even half a bar. Clearly Seim has a different idea of how jazz should sound...or, is the term becoming antiquated itself and should what he makes simply be called music?

What's most remarkable about the Norwegian jazz scene is its breadth. Those only familiar with music coming from Norway on a superficial level often use terms like "Nordic Cool," as if the country's music can be described with such a simple, reductive phrase. Without coming close to describing the breadth and depth of the Norwegian scene, here is a list of just a few of the artists stretching the boundaries of today's music (by no means comprehensive, and apologies for the many who've been left out):

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