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Oslo Jazz Festival 2018

John Sharpe By

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Nordisk Showcase

Sentralen, a multi-floored, multi-venued complex housed in a former bank, played host to the Nordisk Showcase, which featured groups from jazz schools and conservatories across Scandinavia, as well as one from Scotland and another from South Africa, somewhat straining the geographic boundaries of Nordic in the process. The building was packed with a mainly young audience which augurs well for the future of the Norwegian scene, even if not all of them stick around for the more complex stuff.

Of the bands I caught, Aganche Lynx from Malmo in Sweden gave a very theatrical presentation, primarily through singer Agnes Kofoed Christianson. Although their songs were jazzy and occasionally folky sounding, they didn't afford a lot of space for individual improvisation, but they addressed that through a novel way of devising a continuous performance, by using melodramatic declamations or solos from drums or piano to link numbers.

Riffs aplenty from Bangkok Lingo, a young very energetic five piece from Oslo, really got their hometown audience going. They featured some effective contrapuntal interplay between Lyder Øvreås Røed's trumpet and Lauritz Skeidsvoll's tenor sax. A volatile exchange between the drummer and percussionist also garnered a positive reaction on "Lost Tribes."

From the WITS School of Arts in Johannesburg, the WITS Art Collective delivered a set of melodic jazz, irresistable rhythms and soulful vocals from Keorapetse Kolwane. On Miriam Makeba's "African Sunset," pianist Mdu Mtschali gradually took the rootsy rhythm further and further out until he was bashing out time with the flats of his hands, though still maintaining the same lilting cadence. On trumpet, Tal Gordon both shaded the vocal line but also smoldered with passionate intensity on the ballads, to conjure a suitably late night vibe.

Jo Berger Myhre & Ólafur Björn Ólafsson

Not part of the Nordic Showcase, but appearing in the same complex, the Norwegian/Icelandic duo of Jo Berger Myhre and Ólafur Björn Ólafsson created a soundscape which went far beyond the drum and bass instrumentation. Bassist Myhre has played with the likes of Nils Petter Molbær, Splashgirl, Susanna and Mariam the Believer, while the Icelandic drummer and keyboard player Ólafsson has performed with Sigur Rós, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Skúli Sverrisson. They began in intriguing fashion as Myhre bowed a cross between whale song and Bach, against Ólafsson's spacey drone. Unfortunately their slowly intensifying dynamic took a turn for the worse when Ólafsson switched to an amplified primal throb at the drum kit, as the volume made me fear for my hearing, driving me from the room.

Outro

Judging by turnouts alone, the festival could be counted a resounding success. All the concerts seemed well-attended by a variety of ages. That was particularly true of the Nordisk Showcase on the final weekend, with a predominantly young throng. Perhaps they were attracted by free entry to an evening's entertainment, but if so it was a successful ploy. But the Festival was also very much a success in terms of the extensive spread of styles presented, especially as that was happily achieved without stretching the definition of jazz to breaking point, as done by some other major festivals which include rock acts to bolster income. If one area was under-represented it was at the freer end of the spectrum. It was interesting that the annual Blow Out! Festival of improvised music was on during the same week. That might present an opportunity for closer cooperation in future years through some sort of link up, in promotion if nothing else.

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