Norwegian Road Trip, Part 5: Molde Jazz, Days 1-2

Norwegian Road Trip, Part 5: Molde Jazz, Days 1-2
John Kelman By

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
[Editors Note: From July 6 to July 26, 2010, All About Jazz Managing Editor John Kelman will travel throughout Norway to cover both the Kongsberg Jazz Festival (also participating in Silver City Sounds) and Molde Jazz. He'll also spend a week between the two famous festivals in Oslo, where he'll check out the scene, talk to musicians and labels, and visit the legendary Rainbow Studio for a look around and an interview with engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug, who has participated in hundreds of ECM recordings. He'll publish every second or third day, so be sure to follow him as he goes from the east coast to the west, in search of Norwegian artists known and unknown].
While it would be faster to fly from Oslo to Molde, it wouldn't be a proper road trip without taking the train, a stunning seven-hour trip that includes journeying from Dombås—the highest rail point in the country—to Åndlasnes, about an hour outside of Molde. The 90-minute rail trip from Dombås to Åndlasnes features some of the country's most stunning scenery; but also proof of Norway's intrepid nature when it comes to ensuring there's a proper infrastructure capable of delivering all the necessary services throughout the country.

And that's a real challenge, because Norway's small population (now approaching five million) is not concentrated in a handful of larger cities; instead, the train ride from Oslo to Molde demonstrated just how spread out Norway's inhabitants are. Hardly a mile went by where there wasn't evidence of some small community, nestled at the foot of a large mountain or situated along a river or lake. Norway's road system makes its way around mountains, but also through them, with seemingly countless tunnels cutting through some of the largest peaks; but how the train wound its way from Dombås to Åndlasnes was particularly remarkable. In a 1,340 meter tunnel, the train made nearly a 360 degree turn as it descended from Dombås to the bottom of Romsdal Valley, actually coming out traveling in the opposite direction and nearly 19 meters above where it entered the tunnel.

It was a day of sun and clouds, which made for some spectacular scenery. Leaving Oslo, the landscape became increasingly vivid, first with rolling hills and green landscapes, but gradually becoming increasingly rough and craggy, with mountains gradually emerging in the distance and blue-green glacial waters reflecting the sun and clouds. Some of the country's best fishing could be found in the country between Oslo and Molde, as the train crossed the country from east to west; Lake Lesjaskog, an 11 kilometer lake with rivers running from both ends, the watershed between east and west Norway and a rich source of trout and graylings. Farther along, the River Rauma wound its way to a fjord, one of the country's best places for salmon fishing, as they migrate there from the ocean near Greenland, to spawn just below Kylling Bridge.

Kylling Bridge was impressive in and of itself. 76 meters long and 59 meters high at its apex, it was built between 1913 and 1923, and demonstrates Norwegian ingenuity long before oil gave the country the money to implement its more thorough infrastructure. But before coming to the bridge, the 380 meter Vermafossen waterfall was another highlight amongst highlights; a stunning natural wonder that is also used to generate electricity for the region.

Arriving in Åndlasnes, it was impossible to imagine how anyone could ever become complacent about being surrounded by such stark and stunning beauty. With mountain peaks rising everywhere, Åndlasnes was a small crossroads location where buses to other places met the train's arrival. Still, it was far more than a small town, with lovely architecture and, despite being distanced from larger centers, hardly wanting for any of the social services that are such an inherent part of the Norwegian fabric of daily life.

An hour-long bus to Molde continued the intimate look at some of the country's most stunning mountain scenery. A 10-minute ferry ride across a fjord provided a combination closer look and panoramic view, before finishing up the trip to Molde winding through more rolling landscape along the large fjord on which Molde is situated, 25 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean. Arriving in Molde, a town of 25,000 surrounded by 222 mountains, it's impossible to imagine a more gorgeous location for a jazz festival. Farther north than Oslo, the days are also a little longer at this time of year, with night approaching at 10:30PM, but still in a strange kind of elongated twilight where shades of blue remained in the sky, peaking through the cloud cover.

It was a perfect way to be welcomed back to Molde, as the town prepared for the jazz festival's 50th anniversary, a stellar year that, in addition to featuring Artist in Residence Nils Petter Molvaer and Label in Residence Rune Grammofon, will host fifty artists/groups including In The Country, Puma, Bushman's Revenge and Terje Rypdal. There will also be a special, one-time performances by Motorpsycho with the Sula Art Ensemble, Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Trondheimsolistene, a new project from Ketil Bjornstad (being recorded by ECM), and an all-star collaboration by Gary Burton, Tommy Smith, Arild Andersen and Alex Riel. All-in-all, a great year to be in Molde.

Chapter Index
  1. July 19: Laying the Foundation and Art Exhibits
  2. July 19: Nils Petter Molvær Opening Performance
  3. July 19: In the Country
  4. July 19: Farmers Market
  5. July 20: Javid Afsari Rad
  6. July 20: Magic Pocket & Trondheim Jazz Orchestra
  7. July 20: Burton/Andersen/Smith/Riel

July 19: Laying the Foundation and Art Exhibits

Plenty is written about fearless Norwegians, the benefits of having the money to invest in the arts and a kind of reckless innovation where no idea is a bad one. But an event during the morning of Molde Jazz's first day brought all three together.

Det Hvite Hus Groundbreaking

With a new library being built for Molde—laws to promote literacy in Norway mandate that there must be a certain number of books available per capita—it's indicative of the country's approach to collaborative thinking that the venue will also house a cinema and a new performance space. The number of performances spaces in Molde already far exceed that of similarly sized towns in North America. But at a foundation laying ceremony that, in most places, would feature a couple of speeches by local representatives and nothing more, over a thousand people attended an event that lasted close to an hour, and combined official statements with poetry and music, performance art, and even a bit of live dance/theater.

Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra at Det Hvite Hus Groundbreaking

Japan's Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra—who would kick off the festival at its large outdoor Romsdalsmuseet (Romsdal Museum) a couple hours later—opened the groundbreaking/foundation laying ceremony with a propulsive, percussion and brass heavy performance that included heavily made-up dancers. A spoken word segment by five festival representatives, including Festival Director Jan Ole Otnæs, was followed by an excerpt from Driving Miles, a festival play written by Henning Mankell that will be running the entire week, and featuring actor Per Egil Aske and trumpeter Jørn Myklebust.

Tori Wrånes at Det Hvite Hus Groundbreaking

But, following speeches from federal officials, the real surprise came when an accordion and voice began emanating from the speakers at the site. Looking around, trying to find where the music was coming from, nothing could be seen until Otnæs pointed up to the sky, and it became clear that a crane on the site was not there for the construction of the new building. Instead, hanging off a cable, performance artist Tori Wrånes could be seen gradually being lowered to the ground—though she never actually made it. Instead, she came closer to eye level for the crowd, only to be gradually raised once again to a concrete platform behind the site of the new library.

Only in Norway.

But that wasn't Wrånes' only performance—and she seems compelled to do things that would not only challenge most of her peers; the festival actually had trouble finding a crane operator who would agree to collaborating with her, even though her rider includes a waiver for any and all possible actions in the event that she's injured during a performance. A few hours later, at the local art gallery, another event took place to open the festival's exhibition of artist Kim Hiorthøy's artwork for Rune Grammofon, Molde's first Label in Residence. After speeches including one from Music Information Centre's Martin Revheim, sound again began to emanate.

This time, somehow positioned high up and hanging perpendicular to a tree beside the gallery, Wrånes once again sang (though, with both arms wrapped around the tree, there was no chance for a repeat performance on accordion). When the song was over, and when the opening was over, she remained in the tree as attendees drank, ate and chat.

Tori Wrånes at Rune Grammofon Art Exhibit Opening

Again, only in Norway.

July 19: Nils Petter Molvær Opening Performance

For his opening performance as Artist in Residence at Molde Jazz 2010, Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær put together a dream team of international players. From Norway: keyboardist/percussionist Jon Balke, with whom Molvær played in the 1980s with Masqualero, and drummer Rune Arnsen, a member of the trumpeter's original group that began touring around the time of his landmark ECM release, Khmer (1997) and remained in the band until it dissolved a couple years back. From the United States, bassist Bill Laswell, who has been involved in seemingly countless projects, collaborating with saxophonist/Tzadik label head John Zorn in the legendary group Painkiller, as well as co-leading the group Material, whose Hallucination Engine (Axiom, 1993) remains a classic of stylistic cross-pollination. From Africa, two percussionist: Baboucar Camara and Alieu Saine. And, finally, from Ethiopia: singer GIGI, who has made a name for her blending of traditional music with ambient music.

Nils Petter Molvær

It seemed like the perfect, large-scale opener for the festival and for Molvær, and there were plenty of strong points about the show. However, it was sadly marred by technical problems—including a booming feedback during the opening atmospherics, the forced the trumpeter to push the band into the Afrobeat pulse faster than he'd planned—and a sense that, perhaps, the group didn't have as much rehearsal time as it could have, with eye contact throughout the show as much about figuring out where to go as how to interact.

That said, if the show was impaired by problems, it remained a complete success for Molvær, who simply could not have played better. While he was situated stage right, with GIGI taking front and center, he remained a commanding and charismatic presence, as he combined electronics, extended techniques and unfailingly lyrical playing into one of his best performances in recent memory. Bolstered by Arnesen's very specific way of creating a dancing pulse, the trumpeter constructed serpentine melodies, using a pitch shifter in an equally distinctive fashion to layer moving harmonies that would otherwise have required three trumpeters to play.


Molvær also took a solo spot mid-set, where he softly sang into the microphone cupped into the bell of his trumpet, gradually building a wash of looped and processed sounds over which he delivered line-after-line of exquisite beauty. It was a virtual tour-de-force of trumpet mastery and the kind of organic technological integration and innovation that has—alongside other Norwegians including guitarist Eivind Aarset, live sampler Jan Bang and saxophonist Hakon Kornstad—set the bar extremely high for others attempting similar feats by making it seem as though all the pedals and rack gear aren't just add-ons to his undeniably fine acoustic trumpet playing; instead they're connected at a mitochondrial level, an extension of his trumpet, just as his horn is an extension of his body.

As thematic as much of Molvær's playing was, he did explore more extreme territory at times, turning his trumpet into a screaming voice that—altered almost unrecognizable by his array of sound processors—demonstrated an unmistakable virtuosity that is rarely on overt display, but absolutely must underscore everything he does.

From left: Jon Balke, Aleiu Saine, Baboucar Camara, GIGI Rune Arnesen, Bill Laswell, Nils Petter Molvær

There wasn't a weakness to be found amongst the players, though as fine a voice as GIGI possesses, as the band's front-person she could have engaged the audience more, since much of the performance was booty-shaking, hand-clapping music that could have become a tremendous party for the capacity audience in the standing-room Bjørnsunhuset venue. Instead, it was good time rather than great one, though Molvær's performance was absolutely fantastic, as he covered new ground and set another very high bar for the rest of his run as Artist in Residence.



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