Mention the phrase "the Norwegian sound" and many listeners will get an image in their head. An image of a natural, deep echoing sound influenced by the mountains and hills of the Norwegian landscape. Such an image is, of course, a cliché, but to some critics it has stuck and distorted the rich fertility of the Norwegian jazz scene.
Just like a postcard doesn't represent the true image of a country, it would be wrong to assert that there is one type of Norwegian jazz and producer Odd Gjelsnes, who runs the Oslo-based record label Losen Records
, isn't in the business of manufacturing myths. Instead, he immediately corrects this wrong when being asked about the so-called Norwegian sound: "I don't know If there is such a thing as a Norwegian sound, I think this was more likely to be found in the past when Terje Rypdal
and Jan Garbarek
came into the jazz scene with their strong and distinctive sound. The ECM sound has sometimes been confused with being The Norwegian Sound. For some time, some Danish critics have had fun pigeonholing Norwegian Jazz as "mountain jazz." When asking what mountain jazz is, I got an answer that "we" did not play real music when using lap tops etc. It did not make me any wiser."
As Gjelsnes concludes: "Maybe they just envy us all this talent. There just seems to be an endless flow of new talented musicians that are having success not only in Norway, but in many other countries as well. Not only are all these new kids very competent and good musicians, but they have the guts and the ability to mix all sorts of music and find their own way in the jazz jungle without any prejudices."
Elaborating on the cosmopolitan nature of many Norwegian jazz musicians, Gjelsnes says: "We have several musicians that have moved to other countries, for instance USA, like the trombone player Jens Wendelboe playing with Blood, Sweat & Tears apart from having his own New York Big Band. There is also the keyboard player Håkon Graf, who lives in California and plays with all the big names and has a trio with Gary Grainger
and Dennis Chambers
. The bassist Eivind Opsvik
is playing with "everyone" in New York. The saxophonist Ole Mathisen
is also a strong force on the New York jazz scene. And, of course, the guitarist Lage Lund
that I am happy to have on Losen Records with his OWL Trio. In Oslo, the old band Magnolia Jazzband is keeping the traditional New Orleans music alive. Paal Nilssen-Love
is a driving force worldwide as a drummer on the free- jazz scene only to mention a few."
In conclusion to the question of a special Norwegian jazz sound, Gjelsnes says: "If there is anything distinctive about Norwegian jazz it must be the fact that the whole range of jazz is covered in a professional way by Norwegian musicians. The openness and will to search for new expressions is probably also a factor. With the fact that we are only 5 million people living in Norway, it is obvious that the market is too small for all these musicians and that has more or less forced them to seek abroad for a bigger market."
Like the Norwegian musicians he works with, Gjelsnes has a cosmopolitan nature himself and has built his own studio in Spain where many of the projects on Losen Records will be recorded in the future: "Studio Barxeta is just one corner of a 1600m2 big Finca (farm house) situated on the top of a hill in the middle of a gigantic orange plantation with no next door neighbours or any outside noise that can interfer with the recordings. We are situated about 40 minutes south of Valencia close to the city Xativa."
Not only are the surroundings beautiful, the accommodation is also convenient: "The musicians are living in a flat just around the corner of the studio. We have a brand new swimming pool for studio visitors only and the studio can be used any time, even far into the nights if that is a wish. If the musicians hire the studio for one week, we are not counting hours within this week. It is one price for one week regardless of working hours. We are all living close together in the process of making good music. A side effect of this is many good conversations, long nights with good wine and food. In total, a week that the musicians will hopefully remember with a good feeling. We have experienced that musicians appreciate having plenty of time for the recordings compared to most other studios where every hour is counted."