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Norwegian Jazz 101b: JazzNorway in a Nutshell 2010

John Kelman By

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May 28, 2010: Making Sausages in Bergsdalstunet/Mari Kvien Brunvoll

While half of the JNiaN attendees went off for some whitewater rafting early on the third morning, May 28, less intrepid jazz lovers were taken on a bus toward Voss—the extreme sport capital of Europe, which was visited as part of JNiaN 2009—taking a detour off the beaten path for a day in Bergsdalstunet, a farm located deep in the valleys of Bergsdalen. The trip to the farm was as resonant as the day that followed. Driving on the main, two-lane highway from Bergen to Voss, one of the most striking aspects is a system of 38 tunnels that allow vehicles to drive through the numerous mountains along the way—rather than around or up and down them (which would, in fact, be nearly impossible)—in between panoramic views of mountains, waterways, forests and green plains.

The Road to Bergsdalstunet

Difficult though it may be to believe, heading off the main road towards Bergsdalen presented even more remarkable landscapes. Beautifully cultivated farms like Bergsdalstunet can be found on a single-lane road, where diamonds liberally peppered along the roadway provide the only means for vehicles, coming from opposite directions, to get around one another.

In addition to producing a number of products—most notably, sausages—the farm also contained a quaint restaurant where it was possible to sample local cuisine. But while JNiaN attendees were enjoying a snack of pancakes and preserves, the farm's owners and gracious hosts—Olaug Fagerbakke and Helge Terje Fosse—were getting things ready for the main event: making sausages. It may be a less extreme activity than whitewater rafting, but going through the farm's process of preparing and smoking sausages presented its own challenges. Aproned up and with plenty of gloves to go around, Olaug demonstrated how a small manual hand funnel—a centuries-old device that hasn't changed much since Roman times—is used to feed the ground meat, seasoned only with salt and pepper (though the debate as to whether white or black pepper remains a heated one), through a tube into the sausage casing (made from animal intestines), and is then tied and cut off.

While the numerous double entendres of making sausages weren't lost on anyone, almost everyone tried their hand at the process. Then it was off the smoking cabin up the road for the final step in the process. There are two approaches to smoking, which contributes the most to a sausage's distinctive flavor: hot or cold. Hot smoking both flavors and cooks the sausages, while cold smoking only flavors the meat. Bergsdalstunet employs cold smoking, and so a small pipe leads underground from the bottom of the small incline on which the smoking cabin was situated so that the hot smoke is cooled before entering the shed. Humbling, in a world steeped in technology, is how accurately the temperature of the smoke can be regulated naturally. The length of time required to smoke the sausages is, however, dependent on the humidity in the air—the greater the humidity, the longer it takes.

From left: Madli-Liis Parts and Anki Heikkinen Make Sausages

Smoking is done twice over the course of two days, and so the sausages made that day would not be ready for eating. Whether or not that was just as well is something JNiaN will never know; but after visiting the smoking cabin, everyone went back to the restaurant for a meal that, in addition to sausage, included smoked salmon taken from a nearby fjord as well as a variety of meats, vegetables and potato, not to mention some mouth-watering rolls, fresh out of a pizza oven imported from Italy. With 15-20 people at two long tables, it was another great opportunity to get to know one another over a warm meal of comfort food.

Running a little late, the rafting contingent finally caught up with the sausage makers, had a bite to eat, and then everyone headed off to a small church up the road for a solo concert by vocalist Mari Kvien Brunvoll. Brunvoll, a singer originally from Molde but now based in Bergen, is yet another young Norwegian musician marrying acoustic instrumentation with electronics. She's not unlike Jarle Bernhoft, whose 2009 solo performance at Punkt was nothing short of a revelation. But whereas Bernhoft uses looping and other devices to create a miniature band for his pop, soul and R&B-oriented material, Brunvoll's songwriting is more left-of-center. Her background in jazz imbues the music to a certain extent, but like so many other Norwegian artists, it's more deeply subsumed and is far from direct.

Sitting on the floor of the church and surrounded by microphones, electronic devices, a thumb piano and a zither, Brunvoll created a virtual choir by gradually looping layer upon layer of her voice—one which was capable of an almost painfully pure, vibrato-less falsetto and a natural range that was paradoxically fragile yet capable of greater power when needed. Brunvoll's command of technology was seamless and complete, as she created numerous loops on the fly—some of which were then altered so that she could create washes of white noise, cushiony vocal pads and more—but even more impressive was how she managed to remember each part and where it was stored, so that she could re-introduce any or all of them at will, as her songs gradually unfolded.

Brunvoll's song structures defied easy categorization. Sometimes a lush and lyrical tune would dissolve into otherworldly soundscapes—at times, ethereal, elsewhere jagged—only to gradually reemerge. Despite being less technically accomplished (yet) than singers like Sidsel Endresen at evoking purely acoustic sounds not normally associated with the human voice, Brunvoll did, nevertheless, use a number of extended techniques, such as vocalizing staccato percussives, to give her music more expansive texture and, at times, a clear, strong pulse. She also used a special microphone to create beat sounds, which were often pitch-shifted into an even deeper register. The combination of skilled vocals, an intuitive and resonant style, and writing that, while not in any way imitative of, but certain redolent of Iceland's Björk, made her relatively brief performance yet another highlight in a trip filled with them.

As oblique as her music sometimes became, an underlying lyricism, combined with her strong but fragile voice and a uniquely off-kilter approach to the writing, gave Brunvoll a voice all her own. She has yet to release an album, but was a highlight of this year's 12 Points! festival in Stavenger, Norway, and there's little doubt that when she finally does, it will be well worth checking out.

The return trip to Bergen was quieter than the trip out; everyone was tired after a long day that started early in the morning and continued until early evening. And there were still the final evening's performances at Nattjazz.


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