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JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2014

Henning Bolte By

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Cortex is a strong up-and-coming quartet configuration instigated by cornetist Thomas Johansson, with saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts, bassist Ola Høyer and the increasingly ubiquitous drummer Gard Nilssen. Sawing the air with rhythmically dense and edgy melodicism, the group beat its very own track crossing through the fields of Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. The group sounded heavy in the {Atomic}} way, but also soared and swung like heaven due to the strong cohesion between the two horns, combined with strings and skin, as well as its remarkable power of projection. The group has made its way into bigger European festivals and North American venues. Its second album, Göteborg, has been released on Gigafon, a young label founded by drummer Gard Nilssen and guitarist Petter Vågan. Gigafon not only supplies high recording quality releases; its cover design—done by bassist Rune Nergaard—is one of the most original of this moment in time.

Bushman's Revenge, a particularly scorching South African hot sauce, was also the apt name of the free-rock power trio of guitarist Even Helte Hermansen, bassist Rune Nergaard and drummer Gard Nilssen. With six albums out on Rune Grammofon—the most recent being Thou Shalt Boogie!, released at the end of 2013—Bushman's Revenge now belongs to Norway's collective of established groups. Its music was basically a raging electric guitar storm with compelling drums and an occasionally heavy Hammond hammering and curving. The storm sometimes quieted down for awhile, providing space for different temperaments, temperatures and tempo—slower, and even introspective. The rock-driven music was jazz-spirited in the sense that the musicians felt free to produce their own sheets of sound and go to other places and fields easily, distilling their own liquor throughout. At the House of Literature it was revealed that the trio could induce a full blown high energy level of storm in less than fifteen minutes and hold that easily. Together with the vital sounds of Cortex it provided a steamy start to JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2014.

Nilssen was involved in Nattjazz later that week with his new duo sPacemoNkey, with In The Country piano ace Morten Qvenild. The duo has just released The Karman Line on the Norwegian Hubro label, its music shuttling between high energy outburst and freak outs, and beautifully strange, still soundscaping. The duo played a fully improvised live set on Nattjazz's third night. After some fumbling and firing, a shimmering hot lava stream emerged, yielding moments of great musical intensity; Nilssen's comment? "That's what we go for every time again!"

Ole Bull's Lysøen

The second day brought us to an illustrious place of importance for Norwegian self-understanding and/by music. Lysøen (pronounced leeseuan) is a small island outside Bergen where Ole Bull (pronounced oule beul) built a fantastic fantasy residence. The residence is an amazing amalgam of eastern and western elements, Moorish with art deco. Its moderate size and its fabrication from wood and glass were strong unifying factors.

Ole Bull, this crazy Norwegian fiddler, was born in Bergen in 1810 into an era of virtuosos all around in Europe: Paganini, Gusikow, Spohr, Schumann, Liszt, Joachim, just to name a few. Bull caused a furor on stages in Europe, Canada, the United States and Cuba. Through his concert tours in the U.S. he amassed a considerable fortune. His fame rested on a few catching features which impressed his large public even as it did his peers, like his flaming improvisations, the spontaneous flow of his music and the way he could switch back and forth between different musical spheres. "He is simply extraordinary. He is a kind of wild genius with an abundance of original, compelling ideas. In short, he hit me and it's a long time since it happened to me so," as Franz Liszt put in 1860. Star violinist and conductor Joseph Joachim mainly fell for Bull's interweaving of Norwegian folk melodies in his playing. There were not only the special folk melodies but also the violin's sister instrument, the Hardánger Fiddle—with its sympathetic strings and a flatter, lower bridge, allowing more strings to be played simultaneously—both of which Bull grew up with. For his concert violin he used a flatter bridge and preferred an extra long bow.

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