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Molde International Jazz Festival 2013

Molde International Jazz Festival 2013
John Kelman By

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Molde International Jazz Festival
Molde, Norway
July 15-20, 2013

It may have been his last year as festival director, but Jan Ole Otnæs sure went out on a high, not just because his programming was as impeccable as ever, but because he made it a year with a very specific philosophy. In past years, the festival's artists in residence have included such prestigious names as Arve Henriksen, Nils Petter Molvaer and Dave Holland, but with this year's choice, pianist Jason Moran, Otnæs made it clear that the dividing line so often drawn between jazz in America and Europe is nothing but artifice. Of course, this is not a particularly new concept; one need only look at labels like ECM, Hatology and Pirouet to see that there is plenty of interaction between artists from both sides of the Atlantic (and even further abroad, for that matter), but with Moran's program a near-perfect blend of collaborations with American artists and others from Norway and Sweden, the 2013 Molde Jazz Festival was a celebration of jazz as a unifying form—one of inclusion, rather than exclusion. Moran's six shows included two longstanding partnerships: the first, with saxophonist Charles Lloyd, with whom the pianist performed a sublime duo concert to celebrate their 2013 ECM recording, Hagar's Song, at the 2013 Montreal Jazz Festival just a couple weeks prior; the second, with his longstanding Bandwagon group, featuring bassist Taurus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. Moran opened the festival with his In My Mind project (devoted to the music of Thelonious Monk), expanding his Bandwagon trio to an octet with the addition of five Norwegian brass players, proving there are plenty of Nordic players conversant with the American tradition while, at the same time, bringing their own culture to the mix. Moran also teamed with Andratx, a Scandinavian group stemming from Denmark, Sweden and Norway, while a much anticipated duo with live sampler/Punkt Festival Co-Artist Director Jan Bang met—and exceeded—all possible expectations. It's rare that a show lives up to its hype, but this was one case where it actually did.

Beyond Moran's residence, which also included a closing show at the town's church with his wife, singer Alicia Hall Moran, the festival once again presented a diversity rich program, ranging from young guitar firebrand Hedvig Molestad's hard-rocking instrumental trio to the premiere of drummer Paal Nilssen-Love's aptly titled Large Unit. Guitar hero Stian Westerhus debuted his ear-shattering new group, Pale Horse, while the gentle, Big Sur project from another guitar hero, Bill Frisell, was in rich contrast to another premiere, this time from the guitarist at the core of so many young Norwegian six-stringers, Terje Rypdal. The ever-exploratory Albatrosh duo delivered its first performance of a new suite of music with the renowned Trondheim Jazz Orchestra while, a couple of days later, guitar power trio Bushman's Revenge took a step forward by inviting violinist Ola Kvernberg (who seemed to be everywhere at the festival) and saxophonist Kjetil Møster, and pianist Maria Kannegaard delivered just the second performance of a transportive work for a newly forged sextet, bringing together a virtual supergroup of Norwegian musicians from across the generations.

Beyond the festival itself, a group of 25 delegates, ranging from journalists to club owners and festival presenters, and hailing from countries as nearby as Sweden and Denmark and as far away as Canada, the United States, Japan, Hungary and Germany, were invited to participate in a new initiative, organized by Music Norway, the recently merged organization replacing Music Export Norway with Music Information Center Norway. An extrapolation of Silver City Sounds, which took place for a number of years at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival, the Molde Jazz Expo was created out of the desire to make that event—intended to introduce its invitees to Norwegian culture and music, with special trips included to allow folks to see some of the surrounding countryside—less festival-dependent. This year it was in Molde; next year it could easily be held elsewhere.

Running the inaugural; Jazz Expo in Molde for the final year of Otnæs' 13-year run was certainly a great idea, but not just for the festival; surrounded by 222 mountains, Molde is truly one of Norway's most beautiful locales, the town of 24,000 situated on a large fjord about 25 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean...and a short drive from the award-winning Atlantic Road, which was the destination for the group on one of the Expo's three days. That the weather was less than cooperative—raining most of the time, with only the occasional (and temporary) breakthrough of sun—did not ruin the natural beauty, though it was unfortunate that less of the surrounding mountain-scapes were visible; on a clearer day, every time a cloud breaks there's a new mountain to be seen, something that makes the festival not just a great destination for music, but for its natural beauty as well.

A few of the attendees decided to stay for the entire run of the festival, and it was well worth it, inclement weather notwithstanding. Beyond the specific meaning of Jason Moran's six-day residency, there wasn't a single day at Molde Jazz Festival where there wasn't something to command—and demand—attention. With Otnæs heading to Oslo to run the city's Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria, the mantle of Molde festival director has been handed over to Anders Eriksson, trumpeter for Ensemble Denada, but also the man responsible for booking the group's tours and acting as road manager, amongst other administrative details. Hiring a professional musician with such skills means that Molde International Jazz Festival remains in good hands, though it will be interesting to see just how Eriksson stamps a festival that's been so strongly defined by Otnæs for the past thirteen years.

July 15: Jason Moran In My Mind / Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Albatrosh

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