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Far too many people talk about the Norwegian scene as being "interesting because it's so exotic." Those who think so, have in mind its "Nordic Tone," that distinctive mood which evokes snow, mountains and icy fjords. This kind of stereotype, however, does not do justice to the diversity and quality of today's Norwegian jazz.
Norway is a young country so it doesn't have an overbearing tradition to come to terms with. Norwegians have a healthy dose of national pride and, for a considerable period of time, they lived in relative isolation from the rest of Europe. They also boast a spirit of adventure that dates back perhaps even to the Viking period. All this means that, today, Norway offers an effervescent scene which is driven by a search for a personal style. Characterized by its vocation for improvisation (the real essence of contemporary Norwegian jazz) Norwegian jazz fuses sources of inspiration that range from Ligeti to Björk, via John Coltrane
, King Crimson
and Frank Zappa
without the usual "is this jazz, or is this not jazz?" hang ups.
I am often asked why, as an Italian jazz journalist, I decided to write a book about the small Norwegian scene.
There are a number of reasons, but the main one is that Norway played a fundamental historic role in emancipating European jazz from its AfroAmerican roots. And this is also one of the reasons why it is amongst the most creative and original music scenes around today.
The question that I am asked more and more is "who are Norway's most interesting musicians today?" It's never an easy question to answer, because of the country's horizontal structure, in which musicians frequently share collective concepts and merge into bands with creative names where it's hard to know who the leader is (e.g. Jaga Jazzist
, The Thing
). Over the last decade (and more), thanks to a far-sighted Governmental policy promoting Norwegian artists around the world, various musicians have featured on the programs of international festivals. Among them Arve Henriksen
, Christian Wallumrod
, Trygve Seim
, Stian Westerhus
, Hakon Kornstad
, Jan Bang
and Paal Nilssen-Love
. In the previous decade, the spotlight had been on the main names of the "second golden age of Norwegian jazz" (often referred to as "Nu Jazz"), i.e. Nils Petter Molvaer
, Bugge Wesseltoft
, Sidsel Endresen
, Jaga Jazzist
and Eivind Aarset
: all of whom are still very active and creative.
Norway, however, has always been a country that devotes great attention and support to its youth... and therefore I'd like to dedicate this brief selection to young musicians who are still relatively un-known abroad, who are growing in stature at home and who, I hope, will soon become festival headliners.
As mentioned earlier, Norwegian musicians have never worried about respecting rigid stylistic categories or about emulating those who preceded them. Instead, they try to develop their own individually recognizable voices. This is something that owes a lot to the encouragement of festivals and labels, such as Rune Grammofon
, Nakama, NorCD
. Given this situation, with such a rich and fertile musical scene, selecting has been hard, but I have tried to focus on various collectives of young musicians (indicating their years of birth in brackets) who have recently founded or contributed to some of the most interesting and promising bands. Anja Lauvdal (1987), Heida Mobeck (1987) , Hans Hulbækmo (1989)
Anja Lauvdal is an extremely sensitive and refined pianist, who also shows astonishing compositional maturity. Hans Hulbækmo is the new percussionist of a historic free area band (Atomic), surely destined to leave his mark on Norway's percussion tradition. Heida Mobeck has developed a highly original voice of her own on tuba, often in perfect symbiosis with Anja Lauvdal, with whom she has founded the fascinating Skrap Duo. Together, the two of them also frequent the eccentric indie pop world of Jenny Hval.
Trained at the Trondheim Conservatory, and then at the Oslo Musical Academy, Lauvdal, Mobeck and Hulbækmo have been involved with some of the most transversal and stimulating groups around: Moskus
, Broen, Gruv.
Erlend Apneseth (1990)
- Skrap + Trondheim Jazzorkester: Antropocen (Forlaget Fanfare, 2017)
- Skadedyr: Culturen (Hubro, 2016)
- Moskus: Ulv Ulv (Hubro, 2016)
Apneseth is a representative of the Bergen scene. With drummer Øyvind Hegg-Lunde and singer Mari Kvien Brunvoll, they have created bands such as the Erlend Apneseth
, Building Instrument
and Strings & Timpani: exploring musical territories between folk, pop-rock and experimentalism. Like the violin virtuoso from Hardanger Nils Økland
, of whom he is the natural artistic heir, with his trio Apneseth moves between folk and contemporary experiments.
Christian Skår Winther (1989), Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard (1989), Ina Sagstuen (1989)
- Erlend Apneseth Trio: Åra (Hubro, 2017)
- Erlend Apneseth: Nattsongar (Heilo, 2017)
- Building Instrument: Kem Som Kan Å Leve (Hubro, 2016)
- Strings & Timpani: Hyphen (Hubro, 2016)
Winther, Nergaard and Sagstuen constitute another group of musicians based in Oslo who explore the links between acoustic abstraction, krautrock and extreme noise. Christian, Magnus and Jan Martin are, above all, part of the experimental trio Monkey Plot
-winner of the 2014 Jazzintro prize -but also join with the singer Ina Sagstuen and other companions in the Karokh
band. Two, rather diverse, bands with which some of these musicians collaborate are ICH BIN NINTENDO and Girl which provide them with very different "spaces" in which to express themselves, or the transversal Propan
the vocal noise duo of Ina Sagstuen and Natali Abrahamsen Garner -which has also worked with Susanna Wallumrød on the Vossajazz commission, Susanna & the Brotherhood.
Hakon Aase (1992), Ellen Andrea Wang (1986)
- Monkey Plot: Angående Omstendigheter Som Ikke Lar Seg Nedtegne (Hubro, 2015)
- Karokh: Karokh(Loyal Label, 2013)
- Torg: Kost/Elak/Gnäll (Jazzland Recordings, 2015)
Håkon Aase is extremely talented and plays violin with Mathias Eick
's band (on ECM) and with his fellow violinist Adrian Løseth Waade in the experimental duo Jinchuuriki, moving from a pop-jazz to bold experimentation, passing effortlessly through folk along the way. But with saxophonist Marthe Lea he is also the co-leader of a duo called Yugen
, which has just released an album of the same name (with special guest Mats Eilertsen
) for the prestigious Jazzland label. He also plays in a band called Duetrost (with Fredrik Karwowski and Knærten Simonsen). In other words, he is a man of numerous collaborations, also including: Time Is a Blind Guide by Thomas Stronen
(ECM), Mette Henriette, the Sigurd Hole Trio , Anja Skybakmoen, Boda Boda...
Ellen Andrea Wang stands out of the wide ranks of talented female musicians, long a defining feature of Norway's music scene, for her distinctive style on double-bass and voice: she is a co-leader of Pixel
, and also a new entry in Manu Katche
's band. In addition, she leads a Trio under her name, with which she recently released Blank Out
. Another Jazzland female player, mentioned earlier, is Marthe Lea, who -together with Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir (guitar), Sanskriti Shrestha (tabla) and Siv Oyunn Kjenstad (drums) -plays in the 20th anniversary edition of Bugge Wesseltoft's New Conception of Jazz band, in its 20th anniversary.
Marius Neset (1985), Daniel Herskedal (1985)
- Yugen: Yugen (Jazzland Recordings, 2017)
- Pixel: Golden Years (Cuneiform Records, 2015)
- Ellen Andrea Wang: Blank Out (Jazzland Recordings, 2017)
Neset and Herskedal are two highly talented musicians who trained in the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, in a class of prodigies including Anton Eger
, Magnus Hjorth
and Petter Eldh
, directed by Django Bates
, and with the JazzKamikaze band. Marius, a key musician in the roster of the German label Act Music, is already a successful musician (and not only in Norway), thanks to his superb technique, while Daniel, a key figure with the emerging English label Edition Records, is a highly refined talent with a special ear for the Middle East.
Christian Meaas Svendsen (1988), Ayumi Tanaka (1986)
- Daniel Herskedal: The Roc (Edition Records, 2017)
- Marius Neset: Birds (Edition Records, 2013)
- Daniel Herskedal / Marius Neset: Neck Of The Woods (Edition Records, 2012)
Christian Meaas Svendsen plays the double-bass and is the founder and engine behind the Nakama band and collective. He is capable of fitting into very different stylistic situations: from the Large Unit ensemble of the free percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love, to the Ayumi Tanaka piano trio, which embraces both experimentation and "Nordic Tone." With the Mopti band, he shared the JazzIntro prize for young Norwegian talents, while with his percussionist friend Andreas Wildhagen
he founded the Nakama collective, including non-Norwegian talents: with them and violinist Adrian Løseth Waade are the Japanese pianist Ayumi Tanaka and an Austrian new entry, Agnes Hvizdalek.
Mette Henriette (1990), Hilde Marie Holsen (1989)
- Nakama: Grand Line (Nakama, 2016)
- Ayumi Tanaka, Johan Lindvall, Christian Wallumrød: 3 Pianos (Nakama, 2016)
- Ayumi Tanaka Trio, Memento (AMP Music & Records, 2016)
- Filosofer: Landet Er Gitt Oss (Nakama, 2016)
Saxophonist Mette Henriette was the star of 2015 thanks to a very original sound which was featured on her stunning self-titled debut album for ECM. A natural heir of masters such as Molvaer and Henriksen, trumpeter Hilde Marie Holsen is distinguishing herself for an original and smart use of electronics, which she has developed also in projects with Maja S.K. Ratkje
and Stian Balducci, and she is rapidly establishing her credentials as a rising star that organicallys blends jazz, soundscapes and contemporary music.
- Mette Henriette: Mette Henriette (ECM, 2015)
- Hilde Marie Holsen: Ask (Hubro, 2015)
These are by no means the only interesting emerging talents... and if you ask them, they'll certainly be able to tell you about an even more interesting friend or colleague of theirs: after all, another feature of Norwegian musicians is that they prefer talking about others rather than themselves!