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JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2018

Jakob Baekgaard By

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JazzNorway in a Nutshell
Bergen, Norway
May 23-27, 2018

If anyone should be in doubt, Norwegian jazz is thriving. Through many years, the musicians in Norway have continued to refine what might be called a particularly Norwegian approach to the jazz tradition. It is not about repeating any preconceived ideas of what jazz is, but rather a curious take on what music can be that is not bound by any genre. New forms emerge and yet there are certain characteristics of the many different sounds that make up such a broad category as contemporary jazz in Norway, among them a connection to folk and free music. One of the best ways of experiencing the state of Norwegian jazz is by going to JazzNorway in a Nutshell that takes place in and around Bergen. Here, it is possible to hear Norwegian jazz as it sounds right now.

Formally, Nutshell is hosted by Vestnorsk Jazzcenter (West Norway Jazz Centre) in cooperation with Nattjazz and Bergen International Festival, with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, City of Bergen, Hordaland County and Music Norway. Practically, it is a yearly gathering of music industry people from around the world, who are invited to experience Norwegian jazz through showcases held at many different places and attend a specially curated part of the Nattjazz Festival (Night Jazz Festival) in Bergen. This year's event also included a trip to Voss, home of the acclaimed Vossa Jazz Festival.

The purpose of this admirable initiative is to find ambassadors of Norwegian jazz and create a network of professionals that Norwegian musicians can connect with and the benefit goes both ways. It all boils down to spreading the word about good music. This has been done through many years and Nutshell has succeeded in building a strong identity that is supported by a friendly atmosphere coupled with professionalism and a sense of the finer details, which means that the music is presented in a culturally and geographically diverse context.

This year, Project Manager, Brit Aksnes, Managing Director of West Norway Jazz Centre, Nina Torske, and Head of jazz, Music Norway, Aslak Oppebøen, could welcome another delegation of writers and industry professionals to attend four days packed with wonderful music, Norwegian food and culture. The artistic program director was Gard Nilssen who in cooperation with West Norway Jazz Centre had put together a program that spanned many generations of Norwegian jazz musicians and not only the new and up-coming crop.

Day 1

Arriving to the beautiful city of Bergen, surrounded by towering mountains, the scene was immediately set for something special, but the inherent sublimity of the setting is balanced by the people who inhabit the city. They are friendly and down to earth and the same thing goes for the music. It is both open and inviting and yet it often has an experimental edge. This was also the case with the showcase on the first evening, presenting a group, Øyunn, led by drummer, singer and songwriter, Siv Øyunn.

Bassist Audun Erlien opened with an electric bass ostinato that slowly developed into a spacious groove with Øyunn singing about "busting the illusions." The lyrics of the compositions were existential, dealing with the problem of finding one's way in the world, but there was also a protest song. Using a hip hop-beat, Øyunn conveyed the message that we should "speak up and let truth flow."

The music also flowed with Andreas Stensland Løwe's use of keyboards, including the sound of Fender Rhodes. He both provided layered textures and supported the mellow groove. Trumpeter Hilde Marie Holsen changed effortlessly between transparent lyrical lines on the trumpet and electronically manipulated click sounds. Øyunn was literally in the middle of it all with her drum set and a vocal that one participant suitably connected to the Swedish singer Stina Nordenstam. However, Øyunn has her own personality and her message that the search for acceptance starts inside the individual and not outside in the world was a clear statement from a promising musician and singer who is in the process of finding herself.

The concert concluded with a song that Øyunn had written for the Peer Gynt Project initiated by Music Norway. Øyunn revealed that there was a hidden reference to the famous Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg in the song. It was a subtle way of incorporating a piece of Norwegian classical music, but in a song- based form with elements of jazz, indie-rock and electronica.

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