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All About Jazz Presents at Kongsberg Jazzfestival: Kongsberg, Norway, July 5-6, 2012

All About Jazz Presents at Kongsberg Jazzfestival: Kongsberg, Norway, July 5-6, 2012

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Kongsberg Jazz Festival
All About Jazz Presents: Doing It Norway
Kongsberg, Norway
July 5-6, 2012

Kongsberg is a small town in Buskerud with about 24,000 inhabitant, situated s 55 miles west of Oslo, the nation's capital. Founded in 1624, after silver was discovered in the hills, the Danish-Norwegian king recruited German miners from the Harz Mountains (migration was common in those times). At that time, Kongsberg was the second largest town in Norway, rivaled only by Bergen. Also hosting the Norwegian Mint since 1686, mining ceasing in 1957, leaving modern-day Kongsberg a high technology center involved in the production of security systems that include armaments.

The Kongsberg Jazz Festival was founded in 1964; nearly forty years later, the 2012 edition presented nearly sixty bands in four days, among them eight bands from Kongsberg region—a lot, considering the town's size—and eighteen non- Norwegian bands. The festival has always sported a strong Norwegian presence, and in recent years has collaborated with Music Export Norway for the Silver City Sounds meeting that brings festival presenters, writers, photographers and other industry people from around the world to network and experience Norwegian culture during the festival's run. With a programming committee directed by Tor Dalaker Lund, the Kongsberg Jazz Festival is a community driven event, with citizens from the town heavily involved as volunteers.

All About Jazz Presents: Doing It Norway in Kongsberg

Regional music scenes get attention from abroad and exchange can take place, depending on what they have to offer—how open-minded, self-conscious and active the people participating are. Norwegian music has experienced remarkable development during the past decade, gaining a leading position across many genres with a considerable number of well-known— or even world famous—musicians. In the jazz sphere, Norway has brought forth concepts and figures that continue to have a considerable impact on the entire genre across the globe. Culture-driven, the scene has arisen out of the specificities of the culture and strong supportive constellations. Given that, it also has to be organized, maintained and developed.

The Kongsberg Jazz Festival, with its strong contingent of Norwegian musicians, the Norwegian scene it supports and the annual Silver City Sounds meeting, has a long history in the field of exchange. Here the idea was born to make a new move and switch roles; the idea was to not only expose Norwegian music to experts of all kinds from outside, but to let an expert from outside present his/her view on Norwegian music. All About Jazz Managing Editor John Kelman—who has been exploring Norwegian jazz with extraordinary engagement, the result of numerous trips to destinations around the country during the last few years—was an obvious choice to execute this task in a reliable, authoritative way.

This also entailed a desired cooperation, by the festival, with All About Jazz's worldwide internet platform. This is how All About Jazz Presents: Doing It Norway came into being; a newly organized element of the festival. The festival commissioned Kelman to program a festival-within-a-festival, selecting a variety of Norwegian groups and providing them the AAJ signature. This is not only a switch in perspectives, but is also an important recognition of the value of contributions from critics and music journalists alike.

July 5, 2012: Eple Trio with Karl Seglem; Aarset/Wsterhus/Endresen/Strønen; Elephant9 with Reine Fiske

The AAJ series started with Eple Trio, featuring saxophonist Karl Seglem. The trio consisted of pianist Andreas Ulvo, double bassist Sigurd Hole, and drummer Jonas Howden Sjøvag. It was a well-developed configuration that operated at the intersection of jazz, folk music and classical chamber music inspired by the approach pioneered by Swedish pianist Jan Johansson, adopted in the 1960s. The group has released three albums, Made This (2007), The Widening Sphere of Influence (2008) and In The Clearing/In The Cavern (2011), all on the Norwegian NORCD-label. The Eple musicians are all involved in various other bands: Ulvo in bands of trumpeter Mathias Eick, saxophonist Froy Aagre and singer Solveig Slettahjell; Hole, together with Hilde Marie Kjersem, in guitarist Jon Eberson's new band (one of the most successful Norwegian musicians); and Sjøvag in his own group, Navyelectre; and all of three participating in Karl Seglem's Quartet.

Eple, playing with whispering drums and a bass often sounding more like a human voice, created a rare and concentrated tranquility. Minimal movement went with a maximum of tension, which transmuted tones into shimmering pearls. These musicians were masters in circumvention and suspense, having deeply absorbed musical influences of various kinds, from the tonal richness of folk to modern minimalism. Seglem, who joined the group in the second half, fit in naturally, deepening the performance's singing quality. It was a testimony to the enduring power of carving sound like a river, soil and solid rock. The group went on passionately, almost over-stimulating the audience with the wonderful flow of its music. The trio's performance undoubtedly and strongly manifested Norwegian traits and clearly set the tone for more sounds to come.

Next was a contrasting double duo appearance, both with electric guitar: one a new match; the other an existing one. The first one brought together two different temperaments: Eivind Aarset, the guitar noir inventor—a climax-player who creates long, panoramic arcs; and Thomas Strønen, the Humcrush percussionist who emulates the regular irregularity of surrounding sounds, letting it sing and unite with old grooves and new music structures. Strikingly, the eight configurations chosen for All About Jazz Presents showcased six top-notch Norwegian drummers, some performing more than once in the series: Terje Isungset (with trumpeters Per Jørgensen and Arve Henriksen); Audun Kleive;, Torstein Lofthus; Helge Norbakken (with Henriksen and pianist Jon Balke); Jonas Howden Sjøvag; and Strønen.

Aarset and Strønen started this first meeting groping and sensing ...but they had to. For awhile, it was treading water in a sonic landscape of desolate plains struck by meteorites (Strønen's heavily amplified bass drums). It took time for both players to connected, but batting impulses back and forth, they ultimately built a platform on which to launch a rocket. It was a long wait, but finally they took a different stance from which a burning prairie song emerged. After this breakthrough, the rhythmical and percussive intensity of Aarset's playing increased considerably and the players broke new ground for awhile, balancing their modes of repetition, shifting, changing and dissolving. It was a set that opened up a wonderful insight into this kitchen of elements, colors and modes, where electronics have become second nature.

Vocalist Sidsel Endresen and guitarist Stian Westerhus have just released their first album together, Didymoi Dreams (Rune Grammofon, 2012), a live recording from last year's performance at Bergen's Nattjazz Festival of Bergen, and Westerhus has a new album to come soon, also on Rune Grammofon label, The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers (2012). The label, led by Fra Lippo Lippi guitarist Rune Kristoffersen, is now fifteen years old, with a flourishing existence that has presented a range of some of Norway's most creative musicians and their adventurous outings.

The Endresen/Westerhus duo, while still relatively new, has gone through an amazing artistic evolution and growth in the past two years—one which is hard to keep up with. Its creative soul, with rich capabilities and possibilities, continues to unfold uniquely every time Westerhus and Endresen play together. Didymoi Dreams was an extraordinary experience live in Bergen, and listening to this great recording does, indeed, bring things together as if in a dream. In Kongsberg, the audience leaned forward assuredly and, right from the beginning, was thrown in and immediately blown away when both musicians entered the stage and approached the music vigorously, completely surrendering both spiritually and physically—but especially Endresen, who entered on high level with her vocals. Endresen and Westerhus captured the audience from the first moment—intense, captivating, and inescapable. Acting totally in the spur of the moment, things fell in place, were sensed fully and made sense immediately. This was no miracle, but a real dream; one of those rare occasions when a completely improvised piece of music cut deeply...very deeply, in this case; something that could be both sensed and seen all around the venue.

Westerhus demonstrated exceptional surrender to the music, as well as intensity, musical sensitivity and deeply internalized technical mastery. It was this, combined with his mental sturdiness, that has made him such an outstanding artist. It was fully intended, it's what he does, as was the case with Endresen. There was an amazing chemistry between both musicians, one that that triggered and disclosed deep layers of their collective musicianship. It was absolutely unforgettable when a truly celestial song arose during the performance; equally unforgettable when Westerhus screamed into his guitar. This was the highest art of improvisation, the highest art of direct and deeply vibrating creation.

Kongsberg Kino: Award Concert: Arve Henriksen

Kongsberg Kino hosted the DnB NOR Award-winner's concert, featuring the recipient from the previous year. Trumpeter Arve Henrikse won the 2011 award, which also included a prize of 300,000 NOK. The most important annual jazz award in Norway, violinist Ola Kvernberg was the recipient of the 2012 prize. DnB NOR is the main sponsor of the Kongsberg Jazz Festival, and the country's largest financial services group, owned by the state and the Sparebank foundation Sparebank was created as a foundation with the sole purpose of owning part of DnB NOR, and also donates up to 25% of its received dividends to numerous charities.

Henriksen performed at the Kongsberg Kino (Cinema) with a special lineup: guitarist and electronic soundscapist Helge Sten, percussionists Terje Isungset and Ingar Zach, dancer Theresa Skauge and video artist Anastasi Isachsen. It was a theatrical show with constructed light design, excellent dance and wonderful playing and singing from Henriksen. It was a new multidisciplinary group that deserves to continue, develop and deepen; no doubt, it will create more appeal to this kind of music and hopefully draw a new audience.

Catching Henriksen's show meant catching but a glimpse of the last All About Jazz Presents performance of the day, back at the old Energimølla (energy mill). A small venue, situated near the swirling Numedalslågen River, it was packed for this performance, in which the well-known power trio Elephant9—comprised of the great keyboardist Ståle Storløkken (a member of Supersilent and Humcrush, and the musical brain behind Motorpsycho's latest opus, The Death-Defying Unicorn (Rune Grammofon, 2012)); electric bassist Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen (who also brought along an electric eight-string bass) and drummer Torstein Lofthus—was joined by Swedish guitar crack Reine Fiske, member of Swedish progressive rock group Dungen.

With its three fine releases to date—including the recent vinyl-only, Live at the BBC (Rune Grammofon, 2012)—Elephant9 was an obvious choice. The combination with Fiske was great, and propelled the elephant to even greater power. Leaving Energimølla, the swirling band could still be heard, driven by the relentless Lofthus like a steam engine. Energy was generated on the highest level.

July 6, 2012: Per Jørgensen & Friends; Jon Balke Magnetic Book; Mats Eilertsen SkyDive; Henriksen/Kleive/Norbakken

Friday would become the day of trumpeter, vocalist, percussionist and guitarist Per Jorgensen (born 1952). He performed with his first group as a leader, Per Jørgensen & Friends, and also participated in pianist Jon Balke's Magnetic Book, at the Kongsberg Kirke. The naming of his group and the title of his program—"(Memories) From The Gallery ..."—both say a lot about his way of music-making. The program title refers to his singing in the church from the gallery, and alludes to all the influences that have merged in his music.

Jørgensen, from Bergen, is well-known in Scandinavia and has played in many combinations, including ensembles with Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur, a duo with Terje Isungset, and both Jøkleba! And Magnetic North Orchestra, with Balke. He also teamed up with Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari and pianist Samuli Mikkonen for Kuára: Psalms and Folk Songs (ECM, 2010). He has played in a great variety of musical contexts, including rock, blues, folk, African, church and jazz, in a variety of roles. This diversity has been absorbed in his music at an increasing high level. His music and musicianship are in no way stylized or overly polished, and he possesses a high degree of authentic enthusiasm. Jørgensen sings for the joy of it, not to impress.

Jørgensen's participation in All About Jazz Presents was especially meaningful, as it was the first time he had performed as a bandleader, introducing a new quintet of tremendous promise: longtime collaborator/percussionist Terje Isungset, whose Ice Music has gained him international stature; harmonium player Sigbjorn Apeland, whose duo with violinist Nils Økland on Lysøen: Hommage à Ole Bull (ECM, 2011) explored a set of overlooked music from the late 1800s; Kongsberg-born keyboardist Morten Qvenild, a defining force in In the Country and his duo with singer Solveig Slettahjell and in Susanna and The Magical Orchestra; and Bergen-based electric bassist Morten Skage.

Jørgensen's trumpet playing possessed a very direct, strong and sharp tone, regardless of whether he is playing lyrically or bursting out. His interaction with Isungset was tremendously varied and rich. Isungset was also surprising; playing with untreated knotty and gnarled sticks, he does what those sticks allow him to do and it always sounded both appropriate and wonderful. Sound-wise he regularly let a reindeer trot along, though integrated into the sound as a whole it was not immediately recognizable as such—a quality that also applied to his sophisticated stone percussion.

Contrary to first impressions, nothing worked in a standardized or usual fashion. Qvenild applied his electronics in subtle ways when injecting them into Apeland's astonishing harmonium efforts, and Skage contributed flexibly and well- portioned to both melodic and percussive dimensions. Jørgensen played percussion, too, and opened up to sing deeply from within. The group as a whole carried music from deeper grounds to a higher plane. In the grandiose finale, the sky and soul opened up to joyful delight. Jørgensen had so much more to offer here than in the Kuara trio; a great musician living the music.

An hour later, Jørgensen was back again,this time in Kongsberg's wonderful baroque church with Jon Balke's Magnetic Book. Kongsberg Kirke has fine acoustics and a famous organ, built in 1765 by Gottfried Heinrich Gloger and restored in 2001 by Jürgen Ahrend. The organ has given name to an annual chamber music festival in Kongsberg (Glogerfestspillene), held in January each year.

Pianist/percussionist/conductor Balke performed with a four-piece group featuring Jørgensen, clarinetist Havard Lund, bassist Bjørn Kjellemyr and percussionist Helge Norbakken, along with Copenhagen-based violinist Bjarte Eike and six string players from the Barokksolistene, who were last heard with the pianist performing music from Siwan (ECM, 2008) alongside Moroccan singer Amina Alaoui, trumpeter Jon Hassell and others during their 2009 Shared Sounds Festival in Berlin—a great experience. Eike started Barokksolistene in 2005 as a flexible ensemble appearing as a chamber orchestra, but also as a pub band, free improvising group, crossover ensemble and intimate chamber group. Magnetic Book is a continuation of Balke's Magnetic North Orchestra, which joins percussion and strings with improvising soloists on the basis of a series of signals to direct the ongoing improvisation.

This sounds promising, but reality truly excels the description by far. There are not many ensembles acting and playing in such a loose way with these diverse elements. The music traveled from a baroque piece with Jørgensen singing, to a bolero-like passage with clarinet and wild percussion, and a joyous trumpet solo with strings and pure percussion discussion, set to a deep, up-tempo groove. The string-players not only moved freely throughout the church with their instruments, but also got in and out of the music, both loosely and floating. All was kept together by Balke's and Eike's cues, and driven magnificently by the great Norbakken. This music has to be experienced live in a place like this; up to now, the live experience had always been far superior to Balke's Magnetic North Orchestra recordings.

Bassist Mats Eilertsen chose a stellar team to built great, floating and flickering lines around his grandly rotating and dark bass: two Norwegians (saxophonist Tore Brunborg and guitarist Thomas T. Dahl); and two Fins (pianist Alexi Tuomarila (1974) and drummer Olavi Louhivouri, who both also work in Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko's Dark Eyes Quintet), formed SkyDive. With a lineup like this, it was possible to surge and wallow in a set of great quality.

Eilertsen proved a great bassist, bandleader and writer of wonderful dwelling, circling and expanding songs, like his masterful "The Old Oak" (a nice image of his bass sound). This was, no doubt, a great band, with every member playing in a sophisticated fashion. Every piece (written by Eilertsen) allowed the quintet to reach far out: it happened in some pieces with great dynamics; in others, it rippled magnificently. But there was no scrubbing, no grazing, no hard edges, no screaming or loud laughter; only soft smiles, perhaps due to the music's bird's eye perspective. There was also no lightning or thunder, which some other groups brought in abundance. Instead, SkyDive stayed on the albatross side of the musical continuum.

Genre and style boundaries are easily crossed or wiped out in Norwegian music. Another remarkable thing: players continuously create new combinations which explore, discover and develop new territories as well as new sides of old landscapes. One of these combinations was the percussion trio formed bv trumpeter Arve Henriksen with percussionists Audun Kleive and Helge Norbakken. In the trio's early performances in 2011, despite being used to the image of Kleive's huge drum set, it was a surprise to see him operating on a small set of electronic Wave drums, together with Norbakken's special assortment of sound-making materials and Henriksen's acoustic and electronic devices, transforming noise and sounds into music. Here in Kongsberg, however, Kleive returned to the drum kit (equipped with just one set of high hats) when his Wave drums malfunctioned the day prior.

The trio's sound expedition started with muffled trumpet and various kinds of rustling sounds, gradually intensifying and transcending into heavy, violently raging soundscapes. With the roaring dying down, Henriksen's otherworldly maqam-singing emerged. Samples also surfaced, and were planted into the jagged and jolty sound biotope, a sound environment of accumulating drum waves big and small, loud and deep, and low and high, from wooden, metal and other material sources. Complementary to the spontaneous process of creation, there were side-projections, things discerned that may not have been intentionally put into the music, such as sounds like that of Tibetan horns.

This energy-driven rampant sprouting had its restrictions, too. Melodic elements were simple and repetitive. Effects very much depended on when, where, and into what process they were brought. With the trio's unique approach to tension, contrast and emergence in spontaneous creation, Henreiksen-Kleive-Norbakken finished the All About Jazz Presents series by keeping the field open and passing on the challenge.


There are many remarkable musicians and groups, spanning different generations, on the Norwegian scene. For something like All About Jazz Presents: Doing It Norway, a sharp selection was required, making no definite judgment. Musicians and groups you would expect were not there and the other way round: musicians who were not expected to be there were presented. Most importantly, the series shed some special light on the scene in a broader context, with a sufficient range and fertile perspective. Hopefully this first-time collaboration between All About Jazz, Music Export Norway and the Kongsberg Jazz Festival can serve as a focused sampler—or a benchmark, even—across a continually moving and changing field of music.

Photo Credits

All Photos: John Kelman

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