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JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2014

JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2014
Henning Bolte By

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JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2014
Bergen, Norway
May 21-25, 2014

Bergen, the second largest city of Norway along the northwestern coast of the North Sea, is situated along an impressive mountainous bay. Protected against and open to the sea, to the world it is an illustrious place of a centuries-old merchant tradition, originating from the times of the Hanseatic League which connected important places along the Baltic and North Seas. Trade, fish, important natural resources, industry, education and culture: Bergen, the place of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg and star-violinist Ole Bull; Bergen, a major urban cultural centre in the north of Europe. Just a few indicative keywords for the place of the annual JazzNorway in a Nutshell event, which coincides with the city's Nattjazz festival.

Nutshell and Nattjazz

Nutshell 2014, connected to this year's 42nd edition of Bergen's Nattjazz (nightjazz) jazz festival, was organized by the West Norway Jazz Center in cooperation with The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the City of Bergen, the County of Hordaland, the Norwegian Jazz Forum and the Bergen International Festival. It offered opportunities to experience music by a selection of Norwegian musicians at various culturally marked places in and around the city of Bergen: a brand new house of literature; an old fish factory; an old rural furniture workshop; a regional art house; an illustrious old music room; and a restaurant room on top of the highest of the mountains that surrounds the city.

The music and the musicians on location required access by boat, bus, funicular and some walking/climbing, thereby experiencing some of the impressive landscape around Bergen including the area of the Hardánger fjord. Landscapes, big and impressive and nowadays totally wired with electrical lines are (inter)connected by roads, trains, lots of tunnels and bridges as well as high speed boats which allow comfortable crossing through and along places that create striking contrasts. And the snow and glaciers that can be seen on satellite pictures? They are real—a permanent accompaniment when traveling through Norway.

When traveling, meeting and talking, food and meals were another accompaniment organized carefully by JNiaN's hosts: as much as possible, local food; local vegetables, grains, fish and meat, cheese and butter; lamb, whale, winter-codfish, barley and brunost/gjetost.

Nattjazz was a ten-day event that took place at four venues at the old United Sardines Factory of Bergen, now a busy art production center. Jon Skjerdal's programming had a 50:50 proportion of domestic and international musicians and groups. Among the domestic musicians and groups there was also a firm representation of Bergen residents. Additionally, Nattjazz strove to program new configurations of musicians and groups/musicians who have not performed at the festival before. Most, but not all, of the musicians/groups who participated in Nutshell were also involved in this year's Nattjazz program. Presenting between six and eight overlapping concerts every night, complete coverage of the four days spent at the festival was impossible.

There was, however, one remarkable concert at Nattjazz which will be addressed first, preceding a report of all the other events. That was the performance of Norwegian bassist Steinar Raknes's group Stillhouse. When joining this concert some confusing doubt arose. Tom Waits in disguise? Yes; there were some similarities in Raknes' bass playing and singing, but nonetheless it was different on a deeper level and many people were drawn in, and in a remarkable way. It had some special, enigmatic intensity. There was also some fine interaction in the band but not always. Even Hermansen (of Bushman's Revenge) played some guitar, Erlend Slettevold, at certain moments, some kind of organ. When discerning the drummer, who was shrouded in darkness, the high level of intensity and deep feeling got a name: Paolo Vinaccia. His playing got more and more intense, deeper and deeper, more and more forceful, every beat striking, vibrating, causing lucid trance and flowing joy, going on, full-stop. The group sang blues beyond cliché—abundant, heartfelt, unlimited.

Bergen House of Literature

Nutshell started at Bergen's brand new House of Literature, a new cultural centre which was revealed to be successful beyond expectation right from the beginning, a year ago. It was a place not only for poetry and literature but for cultural, social and political debate and the arts connected to it. Starting there set the tone in a clear way for JNiaN 2014, which presented two groups the first night, Cortex and Bushman's Revenge.

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