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 cooperativeraining most of the time, with only the occasional (and temporary) breakthrough of sundid 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 commandand demandattention. 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
A little disclosure: having seen Jason Moran as early as 1998, when he was part of saxophonist Greg Osby
's group with vibraphonist Stefon Harris
and bassist Taurus Mateen, the feeling has long been that, as talented as the pianist has been, he's invariably been stronger as a sideman to musicians like Osby, Paul Motian
and, in particular, Charles Lloyd
, rather than as a leader, despite his Bandwagon trio being around for more than a decade now, winning awards and garnering general critical and popular acclaim. However, after hearing the pianist in so many different contexts during his Molde residency, it was clearly time to reassess. Looking back at his discography as the week progressed, such thinking revealed itself as not just unfair but untrue. The pianist's shows throughout the week covering a wide variety of contexts that were truly eye- and ear-opening.
Moran has been performing his In My Mind
show for quite a few years now, dating as far back as 2005. Using Bandwagon as the core, Moran picks up local musicians to flesh out a five-piece horn section, and he couldn't have found a better group than alto saxophonist Frode Nymo and tenor saxophonist Atle Nymo (both of Ensemble Denada and many other projects); trumpeter Kåre Nymark; trombonist Kristoffer Kompen (who won an award just a couple years ago at the Oslo Jazz Festival); and tubaist Daniel Herskedal
, whose recordings with saxophonist Marius Neset
and guitarist Christian Bluhme Hansen have already begun to redefine the role of his unwieldy instrument.
With a projection screen behind the group, Moran entered the stage alone, put on a pair of headphones and began to play along with a Thelonious Monk
recording. Soon after, Bandwagon plus Moran's Norwegian recruits came onstage and played the tune a second time, but this time with the kind of commitment and energy that belied this group only rehearsing for a couple of days prior to the performance.
Mateen's solution to increased travel problems with a large double bass was to use the custom-build acoustic bass guitar that a Spanish luthier designed and built for him in the mid-'90sand which the bassist has used almost exclusively ever sinceon recordings as well as in performance. What distinguishes this instrument from typical electric bass guitars with a hollow body is that his instrument sounds uncannily like a double bass; sure, there are differences, but it was remarkable just how closely Mateen's instrument was able to emulate the deep, woody tone of a double bass on an instrument that could easily fit in the overhead compartment of an airplane.