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

By Published: November 10, 2013
  • Musicians like saxophonist (and goat horn player) Karl Seglem (who also runs the NORCD record label), saxophonist Frøy Aagre and singer/kantele player Sinnika Langeland blend traditional folk music with liberal improvisational élan;

  • Improvising units like Atomic, Motif and The Deciders bring an edgier kind of American-centric (but, ultimately, still somehow Nordic-tinged) extemporization informed by Americans like Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman, but also Europeans such as Peter Brözmann, Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink;

  • Groups like the 1982 Trio employ traditional instruments like harmonium and Hardanger fiddle in utterly free improvisational contexts;

  • Bassist Mats Eilertsen's SkyDive (with unsung guitar hero Thomas Dahl and better-known saxophonist Tore Brunborg), Eple Trio, featuring Andreas Ulvo, and fellow pianist Espen Eriksen's Trio approach jazz from a more lyrical but still open-minded aesthetic;

  • The Source has, over the past two decades, looked for nexus points where the music of the Middle East and other cultures intersect with into its own music, unmistakably informed by the Norwegian traditions;

  • The growing Punkt festival axis—which includes out-of-the-box thinking trumpeters Arve Henriksen<./a>, Nils Petter Molvær and Mathias Eick, maverick guitarists Eivind Aarset, Ivar Grydeland and Stian Westerhus, stylistically unfettered drummers/percussionists Audun Kleive, Ingar Zach and Erland Dahlen, singer Sidsel Endresen and, most importantly, the festival's co-artistic directors, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré (producers, remixers, live samplers and more)—continues to not only stretch the boundaries of improvisation, but of composition, all with a decidedly multidisciplinary philosophy;

  • Saxophonist Håkon Kornstad is currently beginning to combine his ongoing exploration of loop-driven solo saxophone with more recent studies in classical singing, while singer Sidsel Endresen's groundbreaking duo with guitarist Stian Westerus combines the guitarist's often-times ear-shattering, effects-driven sonic explorations with a unique, cell-based and thoroughly acoustic-driven vocal language, creating music that can range from jagged angularity to tear-inducing beauty;

  • Pianist Bugge Wesseltoft not only explores the Great American Songbook with a decidedly personal bent, but continues to find an organic meeting place in solo performance, where acoustic instrumentation and electronic processing meet;

  • Pianist Ketil Bjørnstad's lifelong exploration of classical constructs and improvisational freedom with artists ranging from Terje Rypdal and Jon Christensen to Arild Andersen and Evind Aarset;

  • Eivind Aarset pushes the boundaries of the guitar, though processing and extended techniques, into hitherto unheard textural spheres, in a variety of combinations but, most recently, attaining a new plateau that combines his longstanding Sonic Codex group with live sampler Jan Bang;

  • Nine-piece beyond-category group Jaga Jazzist blends complex compositional constructs rooted in jazz and progressive rock (while sounding like neither) with an energetically appealing, youthful approach that has garnered critical and popular acclaim around the world;

  • Legacy artists like Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen—the four who, along with Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson, represented the "Big Five" who really put Norway on the map, thanks to their early relationships with the then-nascent ECM Records, out of Germany—continue to explore a variety of arenas, from Garbarek's hugely successful collaboration with classical vocal group The Hilliard Ensemble, heard most recently on Officium Novum (ECM, 2010), and Rypdal's recent larger-scale compositions like Melodic Warrior (ECM, 2013) , to Andersen's recent big band collaboration with Tommy Smith, Celebration (ECM, 2012), which explores some the most iconic music found on the record label he has called home for over 40 years

  • Keyboardist Jon Balke explores a personal mix of baroque instrumentation and cross-cultural rhythmic concerns with Magnetic Book, while fellow Magnetic Book mate, trumpeter Per JørgensenJøkleba!, a largely improvising trio with Balke and drummer Audun Kleive that has reformed in recent years for the occasional concert and recording;

  • Pianist Tord Gustavsen has managed to fashion a very successful career, garnering international attention, mining a very limited range of tempos and somehow imbuing his classical training and Norwegian traditionalism with the gospel music of the southern United States;

  • Multi-instrumentalist Stian Carstensen and his group Farmers Market have managed to bring humor into music that is at once tremendously complex and relentlessly appealing while, at the same time, busting down cultural borders and making music as redolent of the Balkans as it is the Appalachians, and as much about pedal-to-the-metal fusion as it is a kind of skewed chamber music;

  • Guitarist Hedvig Mollestad's trio, Bushman's Revenge, Møster! and Elephant9 bring high octane rock energy to a jazz context;

  • Pianists/keyboardists Kjetil Husebø, Andreas Ulvo, Andreas Stensland Løwe , Andreas Utnem, Morten Qvenild, Sigbjørn Apeland, Christian Wallumrød, Anja Lauvdal, Øystein Moen and Ståle Storløkken all expand linguistic, compositional and textural opportunities through either a fearless rejection of convention or, at the very least, an uncommon stretching of it;

  • Drummers/percussionists including Audun Kleive, Wetle Holte, Per Oddvar Johansen, Andreas Bye, Gard Nilssen, Erland Dahlen, Torstein Lofthus, Thomas Strønen, Pål Hausken, Terje Evensen and Jonas H. Sjøvaag prove themselves capable of working in virtually any context, from the "Blackkazz" of saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby's Shining, the softer climes of In the Country and the paradoxically lyrical yet powerful arena of trumpeter Mathias Eick's group to the guitar power trio of Bushman's Revenge, the acoustic-driven Zanussi Five (led by bassist Per Zanussi), the electro-acoustic improvising duo Humcrush (which, featuring Strønen and Ståle Storløkken, also includes occasional guest Sidsel Endresen) and the more recent Anglo-Norwegian collaboration Eyes of a Blue Dog (Babel, 2013), the brainchild of Evensen, British trumpeter Rory Simmons (of Fringe Magnetic) and singer Elisabeth Nygård;

  • Like Jon Balke but in a completely different fashion, saxophonist Trygve Seim and pianist Christian Wallumrød regularly redefine the concept of medium-scale ensemble composition, incorporating elements of classical music both contemporary and of antiquity;

  • Singers including Sidsel Endresen, Susanna Wallumrød, Jenny Hval, Eldbjørg Raknes, Live Maria Roggen, Solveig Slettahjell, Swede Sofia Jernberg, Hanne Hukkelberg and Susanne Sundfør all redefine and reinvent whatever vocal space they occupy, whether it's singer/songwriter, avant-garde or even straight-ahead jazz.

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