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2007 North Sea Jazz Cruise Day 5: Sounding Off In Oslo

Mark Sabbatini By

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Feeling At Home In 'The Meadow Of The Gods'

None of this worried - and almost certainly wasn't known—by passengers whose biggest concern of the day might have been avoiding smelling like fish.

The daytime itinerary was one of the most sparse of the voyage, with only a few regular cruise activities like "Daily Quiz and Sudoku" and "Card Players Get Together" before 4 p.m. Since the ship was docked in one of the world's five greatest countries (says me), extended shore leave seemed much in order, even if Oslo (population 840,000 including suburbs) is too urban and faceless to really capture the nation's charms. Various theories about the city's name range from "plain" to "divinity," although "Meadow Of The Gods" is commonly accepted. Excursions to look at things like Viking ships, the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, folk and sculpture museums, and the fjords from an old sailing ship were offered from $39 to $200 (the cheapest is a walking tour of the landmarks with "no inside visits").

I've been here many times and am returning for a month-long journey along the entire western coast immediately after the cruise. So I settled for the second-home creature comfort of walking to the central railway station and picking up essential supplies like smoked salmon and that funky brown Gjetost goat cheese that's boiled under pressure until caramelization gives it a fudge-like texture and intense, somewhat sweet, flavor that makes ultra-thin slices a perfect breakfast topping for toast.

Avoiding the temptation to buy a boxload of Norwegian jazz CDs - sadly they're much cheaper online due to miserable exchange rates - I returned to the Rotterdam shortly before the 4 p.m. concert by Oslo singer Silje Nergaard in the panoramic Crow's Lounge at the top fore of the ship (sample some of her work here and here). She put whatever lingering miseries the audience might be suffering from the night before in perspective.

"So you had a hard time onboard last night, I heard," she said. "Well, it's been raining here for eight years, so I'd like to go with you some place. I never get to do cruise ships."

But unlike some bands rushed off immediatly, the midnight departure was a blessing for her. "I'm going to stay and listen to some music before I ride my bicycle home," she said, adding to laughs the bicycle was a fit-the-stereotype fib.

A husky, mid-range vocalist with lush thickness of timbre, her work is more pop (and country pop at that) than jazz, a quality appreciated by some in the audience who remarked afterward they welcomed the change of pace. Dressed in a gold cocktail dress and backed by a quartet more comfortingly supportive than interactive, she divided her set between original romantic ballads and twanging up-tempo narratives often ringing with defiance. The music was a lot like her between-song chats—earthy and personal, sometimes a bit shy and awkward, and fun if not high-level dialogue.

"I see there are some couples here that are - how can I put this - some who look like they're been together longer than others," she said hesitatingly at one point, causing a bit of uncomfortable silence and faint embarrassed laughs near those singled out. She plodded on, talking about things like snoring ceasing to be charming and people forgetting to do little things for each other. The ensuing song, "Before You Called Me Yours," was a mellow guitar-heavy twanger that was unremarkably pleasant except Nergaard was miked too hot for her vocals, causing harshness every time she approached higher volumes.

But the band had plenty of fun with tunes like the s**tkicking "I Will Go With You" in their "Ukulele Amigos" setup with the instrumentalists surrounding Nergaard (do I really need to explain what they were playing?). They scattered back partway through into a driving R&B with a heavy '70s analogue synth scream. It had the potential to be the best of the set except, as my notes state, "they cranked the volume so loud I just wanted the song to end."

A Crowd Walks Out On MMW and Scofield—And An Unbilled Sanborn)

"A disgrace."

Those words by a panelist at a subsequent jazz history presentation were aimed at an audience that abandoned in large numbers the main evening concert by Medeski, Martin, Wood, touring with guitarist John Scofield. The panelist accused them of closing their ears to music not fitting their comfort levels of traditional jazz - and that certainly was a factor for some - but many said the sound was far too loud and harsh to endure.

For the tech crew, which overcame all of the challenges for the band it was most concerned about, it was a cruel blow caused when the show's fate was placed in other hands—or, to be more precise, ears.


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