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Sidsel Endresen @ 60: Oslo, Norway, November 8-9, 2012

John Kelman By

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Sidsel always sings the skin off my body. -- Nils Petter Molvær —Nils Petter Molvær
Sidsel Endresen @ 60: A Special Birthday Celebration
Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria
Oslo, Norway
November 8-9, 2012

Turning 60 can mean different things to different people: for some, it's a time to think about slowing down, and for others, it's a time to kick into higher gear. In the case of jazz and improvising musicians, age seems to do nothing but accelerate their activities; just look at artists like guitarist Bill Frisell, saxophonist Evan Parker and pianist Chick Corea, three musicians who are not only touring and recording at an accelerated rate but who are, in the process, delivering some of the best music of their careers.

Norwegian singer Sidsel Endresen may not appear to be as busy as any of these better-known musicians, though she has begun to ramp up on recorded appearances, with her potent collaboration with improvising duo Humcrush, Ha! (Rune Grammofon, 2011), and her first recording with guitarist Stian Westerhus, the equally powerful and out-of-the-box Didymoi Dreams (Rune Grammofon, 2012) released within months of each other, along with a significant role on Punkt Festival co-artistic directors Jan Bang and Erik Honoré's transcendent Uncommon Deities (SamadhiSound, 2012).

However, Endresen has made clear in the ensuing decades since bursting onto the Norwegian scene in the early '80s—with the Jon Eberson Group, where she became a true pop star with the hit single "Jive Talking"—that, more important than her recorded output, her purpose in life is considerably less ostentatious but far more ambitious. Beginning with two sublime recordings for ECM—1990's So I Write and 1994's Exile, featuring other stars on the rise including trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, pianist Django Bates and keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft alongside label-stalwart drummer Jon Christensen—Endresen began asserting herself as a more experimental singer (albeit one still committed to melody) and a profound wordsmith. With her three subsequent duo recordings with Wesseltoft, Nightsong (Curling Legs, 1994), Duplex Ride (ACT, 1998) and Out Here. In There (Jazzland, 2002), Endresen commenced embracing the seamless electronic integration that had begun to define a second wave of young Norwegian musicians also including trumpeter Arve Henriksen, keyboardist Ståle Storløkken, guitarist Eivind Aarset and percussionist Thomas Stronen, though her own instrument remained steadfastly acoustic.

Following Endresen's last great collection of "real" songs, on 2000's Undertow (Jazzland) she began to more decidedly pursue the use of voice as a textural instrument—capable of integrating more deeply with a band rather than leading it—on tracks like Duplex Ride's "Six Minutes or So." It was here that her investigations into small vocal cells to ultimately create a new language known only to Endresen began. The improv-heavy Merriwinkle (Jazzland, 2003), a trio recording with keyboardist Christian Wallumrod and sound sculptor Helge Sten (also a member of groundbreaking noise-improv group Supersilent), is Endresen's first recorded example of a move away from conventional singing towards a personal approach that has its precedent, to some degree, in Meredith Monk's vocal innovations, but more in spirit than in actual approach and execution. A decade on, there's no doubt that Endresen sounds like nobody else—and nobody else sounds like Endresen.



Since then, her improvisational acumen has evolved, and through participation in the annual Punkt Live Remix festival (in its home base of Kristiansand, Norway, but also abroad in countries including France, Germany, England and Estonia) and collaborations with saxophonist Hakon Kornstad, Humcrush, the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Westerhus and others, Endresen has truly become not just a national treasure but also one of the most (perhaps the most) impressive examples of how an instrument can be reshaped into something completely other than what nature might seem to have intended. The core of Endresen's warm, wonderful, lyrical voice remains beneath her more outré experiments, but so too is a new language that brings together guttural utterings, strange stutterings and occasional mutterings. There is, quite simply, no one in the world like Sidsel Endresen.

And so, with her 60th birthday approaching, a collection of people conspired to put together a special celebration at the Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria club. "It's an interesting story, really," said Norsk Jazzforum's Linda Skipnes Strand, who, among other responsibilities, books Victoria. "It was in a meeting a year ago when I was reminded that Sidsel was turning 60 this year, so I thought, this is Sidsel Endresen, the biggest voice in Norway on the jazz scene, and we like her so much. She's such a nice person, so we wanted to do something. I was kind of nervous asking her because I know she's the kind of person who doesn't love too much attention. So I was kind of nervous; I just sent her an e-mail saying I'd like to speak to her about something, and perhaps we could speak after a concert or something. And the really strange thing is that when we met at the concert, she asked me if we could do something.

"She didn't suggest anything like this tribute concert," Strand continued, "but just something; she really just wanted to be a curator or something. So we did a lot of talking back and forth, and of course I wanted to do the tribute concert, and it was supposed to be a secret, a surprise party, but I did reveal it in the end [laughs]. I really wasn't prepared for all the people we invited to say yes, and there's been such a positive atmosphere. People have been so happy—happy to be asked- -and they all really wanted to do this for Sidsel, and that's why there are 11 of the top musicians on the Norwegian scene. I released [information about the evening] a couple days ago, and the ticket sales just went through the roof. People are just really excited about this. I asked Fiona [Talkington, host of BBC Radio 3's popular Late Junction] to MC because she and Sidsel really get along, and, like so many others, she's a big fan and knows a lot about Sidsel and her music, is familiar with the music scene here and is a really good journalist. She's done this before, she knows what she's doing, so it's great for us to have her."

The first of the two consecutive evenings was devoted to Endresen performing with a new improvising ensemble, the second to a tribute coordinated by Strand, Talkington and Wesseltoft (acting as musical coordinator) that was kept a surprise from Endresen until just two days before the event. Musicians came from across Norway (including some who were out of the country on tour but who flew in specifically to participate in this evening) and even from as far away as England, with pianist Django Bates (who appears on Endresen's two ECM recordings) flying in just for the occasion.

The event turned into a two-day birthday party that confirmed just how important Endresen is to her friends, family and fans, and it was an absolute thrill and privilege to be able to attend.

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