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JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2014

Henning Bolte By

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Renowned trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer presented his new band with a new focus, a switch to less scree but more washing and wearing out of contrasts, liquid lines and shimmering, slow burning sounds. One of the main factors, sound-wise, was master steel guitarist Geir Sundstøl, a seeming antipode to Molvær's former rough and raw guitarist, Stian Westerhus. When Molvær's group started, listening with eyes closed could have given the impression that a heavily updated Ry Cooder band was at work. The group, with drummer Erland Dahlen and bassist Jo Berger Myhre subbing for keyboardist Morten Qvenild, played quite a long set with clear moments of rare beauty and some beautiful songs. For instance, the lost in dreams "traumverloren" piece following a dub-reggae. It would have been an adequate ending. Contrary to the just-released Switch (Okeh, 2013), the live version of this new configuration still has to grow into an arc of tension and grabbing dramaturgy, maybe relying less on (the jacket of) power electronics and more on the steps towards the special electro-acoustic textures and colors already found on the album.

The second night had the two Stians—the hyperactive musical genius Carstensen and the dark, rough outer lands man Westerhus, with his hidden delicate melodies and meteoric guitar. Carstensen, as usual, pulled out all his instruments, styles and modalities, including his skills as standup comedian, to fully entertain his audience; but despite of his first class lineup (amongst others, violists Ola Kvernberg and Frode Larsen, as well as drummer Jarle Vespestad, the spark did not ignite. Rather than being thrilling, it was just a fine, entertaining performance.

Westerhus premiered his new configuration Pale Horses with keyboardist Øystein Moen and drummer Erland Dahlen last year during the 2013 Molde Jazz Festival. Meanwhile, its first album, Maelstrom (2014), has just been released by Rune Grammofon. It is a working context differing from his infamous and extremely moving solo and duo performances of the past few years. That he would make a new move could be expected, but he made the move into a very much reduced but sound-wise oversized steady rock version, with his musical baggage, putting himself out front as a rock singer who delivered a mixed reception and mixed responses. Competing with his other work and roles will maybe not that easy but it is not expected that they will for long persevere riding the same way, these horses.

Torbjörn Zetterberg and Den Storan Frågan (The Big Question) is one of the most enjoyable groups around at this moment. A sextet comprised of four great horn players—trumpeter Susana Santos Silva; trombonist Mats Äleklint Quartet; and the two reed multi-instrumentalists, Per "Texas" Johansson and Alberto Pinto—along with drummer Christopher Cantillo and Zetterberg on double bass, every subsequent concert has been better and better. The group demonstrated a lot of elements in its bag, from folk to bebop, and from Ornette to varieté, which it used in a playful but nonetheless cutting edge manner. The group's Bergen performance had this difficult to describe light-heartedness, combined with a rough, loud and complex sound, which made it very attractive. A real encore group that will be able to fill plenty more—and different—places.

Sunday, the fourth night, presented pianist Christian Wallumrod's ensemble at the Sardinen venue, together with the renowned piano/violin duo of Sylvie Courvoisier and Mark Feldman. Wallumrød was this year's winner of the most prestigious Norwegian music award, the Spellemansprisen, in the category of Contemporary Music, for his album Outstairs (ECM, 2013).

The Wallumrød Ensemble was the only group so far that played totally acoustically. Even percussionist Per Oddvar Johansen's vibraphone was not plugged in; he just played it without electricity. Founded about ten years ago, its present outfit consists of the Streifenjunko duo (saxophonist Espen Reinertsen and trumpeter Eivind Lønning, both from the younger Norwegian generation), plus two string players (cellist Tove Törngren and violinist/violist/Hardánger fiddler Gjermund Larsen).

Wallumrød focused on the rediscovery and regaining of the enormous richness and dynamics of a pure acoustic sound. He achieved this by repeating small motifs—not monotonously, but by a sophisticated distribution of sound and silence. The articulation of the instruments was mostly open and pretty quiet. By repetition and sustain the perceived impact and loudness of the sound increased steadily, creating a special experience of sound intensity. The ensemble, in its present lineup—which played its last concert with Larsen at Nattjazz—has reached a high level of sophistication in the execution of its acoustic concept, revealed in a fascinating way during this Bergen performance and triggering a striking encore. It became clear that the Norwegian audience was highly receptive to the hidden and broken elements from folk, baroque and soul music. Only time will show how the ensemble will treat the open space caused by Larsen's departure.

Courvoisier and Feldman, who have a new live duo album out as well as Birdies For Lulu—a quite surprising album from a new quartet with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Billy Mintz—performed, among others, "Dunes" from their Hotel Du Nord album; "For Alice," a piece dedicated to Alice Coltrane from their recent live album; and "Shadim," a new piece by John Zorn from his just finished Third Book of Angels. There was clear contrast but also some similarity in the approaches and the sounding results of both configurations.

The motifs/themes of Courvoisier/Feldman were often splinters and fragments which did not succeed in a linear way but nonetheless fit together by way of forming contexts for each other and thereby yielding astonishing valences. These elements could also clash and cause lightning and thunder, highly imaginative effects due to the clarity of the nuclei or motifs they employed, even as Wallumrød's musical sources were transfigured and encapsulated to yield new valences and contexts and echoes. The differences were clear in the duo's sharp, glistening and subtly singing rendition of Zorn's "Shadim." Just the contrasting clearness in both approaches made it a great concert experience due to prudent programming.

Photo Credit
Henning Bolte

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Jazz Near Bergen
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