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Trondheim Jazzfest 2018

Henning Bolte By

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Olafshallen, Dokhuset and other venues
Trondheim Jazzfest
Trondheim, Norway
May 8-12, 2018

Trondheim, Norway's third largest city, is the country's main center of intelligence in science, engineering and technology. It holds a key place in Norwegian history and identity in general, and in jazz/music specifically.

The six-day Trondheim Jazzfest is part of the coastal series of spring festivals along with Stavanger and Bergen. For as long as I have known it, Jazzfest Trondheim has been a matter of unpredictable diversity, astonishing contrasts and opposites. It is not forced into a single direction. The next different thing is always 'around the corner,' which turned out to be the case again in this year's edition. This report is necessarily selective then. Running from 1979 with an interim hiatus from the mid eighties into the early nineties it reached its 30th anniversary this year.

Not only are different things 'around the corner' at Trondheim Jazzfest. You quickly learn that almost everything is literally around the corner (within walking distance) -only the director of the fest, Ernst Wiggo Sandbakk, could be met regularly on his bike. This year's anniversary edition was centered at the Olavshallen complex, which was built some 30 years ago and opened in 1989 with a concert by Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson. Lots of last century things here appear including the compositions by maestro Chick Corea who made the 'last century' reference a running gag during his concert with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, a collaboration established a time ago on the threshold of the 21th century.

Cradle of jazz offspring

Trondheim started the first academic jazz-education in Norway at the end of the '70s of the last century that is now part of the Music Department of Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Trondheim stands for an innovative approach of institutional jazz education. It has yielded a long series of musicians of the post-Garbarek generation with a strong impact on the development of Norwegian jazz in all its facets over the past few decades such as Nils Petter Molvaer, Arve Henriksen, Mathias Eick, Hakon Kornstad, Trygve Seim, Tore Brunborg, Daniel Herskedal, Kjetil Møster, Mats Eilertsen, Ole Morten Vågan, Per Zanussi, Ola Kvernberg, Thomas Strønen, Paal Nilssen-Love, Per Oddvar Johansen, Gard Nilssen, Ingar Zach, Christian Wallumrød, Ståle Storløkken, Eldbjorg Raknes, Kristin Asbjørnsen to name a few, names that indicate a noteworthy diversity of temperaments and temperatures in their ways of music making. They all immersed themselves in the special Trondheim learning environment, which produced a remarkable output of musicians that left their distinctive mark over the last three decades.

The festival opened to a packed 1200 seat Olavshallen auditorium with the sound of Gregory Porter's eminent voice. Porter delivered entertainment of the finest carrying his audience generously through a multitude of rich and captivating songs, always telling a touching story, and wonderfully giving weight to every clearly articulated word. What made it so delightful was a deep-reaching, strong endearing voice embedded in, or surrounded by, a fiery, warm sounding band of five impeccable musicians. Jahmal Nichols is a mighty bassist and Emanuel Harrold's drumming is intense, differentiated and restrained at the same time. Pianist Chip Crawford and hammond organist Ondrej Pivec complemented each other in a beautifully orchestrated way. Saxophonist Tivon Pennicott dished up a full Illinois Jacquet-type-of-sound. It was the specific fabrics of space, flow, sustain and pointed rhythmical accentuation that lifted it up to a gorgeous quality. This deeply rooted Afro-American music has been growing through the years to an increasingly higher level of sophistication, not getting worn out but gaining higher intensity instead.

The opening by an eminent vocalist emphasized the importance of the human voice in this musical field, and gave leeway to a total of 18 vocalists in the festival line-up, a strong and clear representation.

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