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Oslo Jazz Festival 2018

John Sharpe By

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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.

Herskedal's writing was genre spanning and cinematic in scope, recalling at various times big band charts, Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite and post-bop jazz. On "North West Passage," a percussion tattoo by Norbakken suggested native Indian beats, amid the explosive clatter, which brought to mind gunshots or ice cracking. After a pause Dale, one of the most distinctive soloists, fast becoming a fixture on the country's jazz scene and also associate professor in jazz at the Norwegian Academy of Music, took a richly colored turn full of clipped embellishments and rolling lines, heralding a nimbly swinging trio section.

In an imaginative display Knut Ålefjær, the Marinemusikken lead percussionist and probably the member most attuned to Herskedal's conception, introduced the next number with flurries which terminated with something akin to natural decay. Herskedal lead the line on bass trumpet, and the band responded to his call before the piece took in an Oriental tinge. Here and elsewhere Herskedal revealed himself to be a virtuoso brass player.

His unaccompanied tuba introduction to the final number before the encore exposed his chops in fine style. At first he recalled a melodic foghorn, but then utilized deep multiphonic chords which to round off his phrases, to which he then added a higher vocalized layer, creating a less predetermined human element amid the orchestration. A double tongued tuba passage, affirmed by the band with earthy riff and Arabic counter melody segued into a tuba/piano/percussion section which invoked a dream sequence, with jazzy piano accents and runs against a loose backing. The short hymnal encore was a fitting end to a concert which combined disparate facets into a cohesive whole.

Juno

As an example of the accessible programming you needed to look no further than Juno, a lively young five piece band which appeared at Herr Nilsen. Made up from four women and one man, they mixed pop, rap and jazz, spiced by sporadic unruly outbursts from Georgia Wartel Collins' bass and Ingvald Vassbø's drums in particular. On tenor saxophone Mona Krogstad largely alternated between the tunes, riffs, coloration, and occasional solos. But with their animated stage presence, it was vocalists Thea Ellingsen Grant and Malin Dahl Ødegård who supplied the focal point. They complemented each other with slightly different styles. But although Ødegård laid down a mean line in rap, while Grant offered more dreamy interpretations, both betrayed their jazz roots with scat solos on different numbers. Collins fashioned a very good, solidly structured bass solo from repeated figures, while Vassbø made the most of his turn in the spotlight, while the two singers played percussion. After being invited back following their debut in the 2017 edition of the Festival's Nordic Showcase, it was no surprise that they enjoyed the support of an enthusiastic audience crowding the small club.

Kristoffer Kompen Quintet

Trombonist Kristoffer Kompen delivered some swinging small group jazz with the help of his Quintet comprising reedman Atle Nymo, pianist Eyolf Dale (again), bassist Jo Skaansar and drummer Pål Hausken in the small but packed jazz cafe Herr Nilsen. Kompen's territory of choice was a lilting mainstream, which was expansive enough to take in both rocky and bluesy influences, performing material from the group's Sundown (Kompis, 2017) album. Kompen's smoothly articulated solos, sometimes with slight blaring inflections among the gently gamboling lines, befitted someone who has paid homage to swing era icon Jack Teagarden.

Inventive within the parameters of the tunes, Nymo often pushed the boundaries and was more inclined to depart from the chordal frameworks, playing with time, oscillating between registers, and overblowing. His angular phrases and ululating tremolos often elicited a response from the drummer, and indeed the subtle interactions among the band were one of the joys of this outfit. Dale proved most likely to mix things up, his sparkling piano solos full of little quotes, dislocations and playful emphases.
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