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Oslo Jazz Festival 2018

John Sharpe By

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Vågan deployed small groups and solo features adroitly within the larger ensemble. One piece which began as a ballad with a Caribbean lilt somehow transformed into a scratchy improv section for bass, drums, Adrian Løseth Waade's viola and Øyvind Engen's cello, before moving on in further unanticipated switchbacks. Vågan also took the opportunity to flaunt his avant credentials with an unaccompanied interlude during which he rattled his bow in its sheath, scraped below the bridge, and tapped both strings and body, exploiting on the whole of his instrument for unexpected sonorities. The final number contained a terrific alto saxophone outpouring from Eirik Hegdal during which Ljungkvist and the other horns had great fun organizing pithy interjections.

It was an excellent concert, full of variety, exciting interplay and great soloing, harnessed by unpredictable scores.

Fred Hersch

An intimate set of originals, standards and less anticipated covers by American pianist Fred Hersch at Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria constituted one of the highlights of the festival. Hersch currently resides somewhere in the upper echelons of modern jazz pianists, reaping plaudits with both his trio and as a solo artist. Alone on the stage, his renditions often evoked a journey, albeit a deeply personal one subject to minor digressions and sudden shifts in tone, dynamics and time. The opening mash up of two tunes by the Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim illustrated that perfectly, by turns rippling and rhapsodic.

Hersch seems to subscribe to the Buddhist credo of change and impermanence as nothing appears fixed in the way he endlessly spins through theme and variations, using his divine touch to move between syncopation and lightly swaying passages in different tempos. His originals ranged from "West Virginia Rose" with its Americana-tinged rolling rhythms and the tranquil "Pastorale," which paid homage to his classical beginnings.

In a perhaps inadvertent link to the Festival's opening event, a celebration of the repertoire of folk singer songwriter turned jazz enthusiast Joni Mitchell, Hersch tackled her classic song "Both Sides Now." He dedicated his tender rendition, full of swelling choruses, and tangents of heavy drama and ringing shards, to the recently passed Aretha Franklin, another big influence on the 62-year old pianist. Later on another "song from my youth," he outlined out the framework with his left hand only, before pressing both into service to bring out an unexpected churchy dimension to the Beatles "For No-One."

His versions of standards often began in heavy disguise, as if he had set off without a destination in mind and then happened upon the song during his travels. "Caravan" started off almost funky, but quickly fractured into staccato impulses. At one point his hands walked to the furthest extremes of the Steinway, before regrouping into a bluesy stride, punctuated by a repeatedly struck note. If he didn't telegraph the direction in the openings, then the same was also true of the finishes, often bamboozling the audience with false endings and then taking them by surprise with sudden pull ups. His "Embraceable You" offered a delicate, almost whimsical take on the familiar chestnut.

As always Hersch celebrated Thelonious Monk, capping his set with a couple of tunes. A dramatic flourish gradually revealed the familiar contours of "Round Midnight," before he left the tune way behind in a whirl of repeated phrases, ringing tremolos and barreling excursions, before settling on "In Walked Bud" to close. Unsurprisingly the audience demanded an encore, a wish fulfilled with an elegiac reading of Billy Joel's "And So It Goes," which with hints of "Auld Lang Syne" supplied a suitably affectionate send off.

Daniel Herskedal Trio & Marinemusikken

The grand setting of the main hall in the city's university hosted a special performance by the trio of low brass specialist Daniel Herskedal, with pianist Eyolf Dale and percussionist Helge Norbakken, supplemented by Marinemusikken (the concert band of the Royal Norwegian Navy). Such a collaboration is far from unprecedented for Herskedal, as he often seeks out unconventional combinations for his music, as evidenced by a track record containing outings with a string orchestra on Slow Eastbound Train (Edition Records, 2015), and a choir on Neck Of The Woods (Edition Records, 2012). And given that his new venture Old Salt Legends has a watery theme, joining forces with Marinemusikken, which resembles a cross between a brass band and an orchestra without strings, fits neatly into that pattern.

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