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Vossa Jazz 2014

Vossa Jazz 2014
Bruce Lindsay By

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Vossa Jazz
Voss, Norway
April 11-14, 2014

Vossa Jazz: a jazz festival that's about more than just jazz, an event that takes place at the same point in the calendar every year but not on the same days, a place to celebrate hundreds of years of musical tradition and to encourage music's future with highly-prestigious annual commissions of new work. All of those things, in a small town tucked away among the mountains and fjords of Norway. The phrase "small festival, big heart" has probably been applied to other events across the world, but it seems especially apposite for this particular one.

Vossa Jazz takes place on the weekend before Easter—hence it's easy to work out when the festival will happen even though the dates vary from year to year. The 2014 Vossa Jazz, edition number 41, took place between April 11 and 14 (in 2015 it will be March 27-29). The relatively late point in the year meant that this was technically a spring season event, but the snow-capped mountains, the occasionally icy blasts of wind and the preponderance of rain clouds meant that spring was rarely in the air. Not to worry—the Vossa Jazz line-up offered plenty to warm the hearts of its audience.

Big names for 2014 included the Bill Frisell Beautiful Dreamers Trio and saxophonist Dave Liebman. The program always emphasises the wealth of talent that comes from within Scandinavia, and Norway in particular: this year was no exception, with visits from a host of superb musicians such as Giovanna Pessi, Arve Henriksen and Jaga Jazzist. Vossa Jazz also commissions new music from leading players and composers—this year bassist Mats Eilertsen was the recipient of the prestigious honor.

Much of the pleasure to be had during this weekend was in the discovery of new music, new players and new ensembles. The program, put together by the festival's managing director Trude Storheim, offered plenty of opportunity for such discovery—particularly in the Jazzintro concerts on Sunday morning, showcasing young Norwegian bands Monkey Plot and Morning Has Occurred.

Voss is home to around 14,000 people—a small town, even by the standards of Norway. It's also a holiday destination for many Norwegians—a ski resort and a noted center for extreme sports such as mountain biking and paragliding—and there are plenty of holiday homes in the area. As John Kelman pointed out in his AAJ review of Vossa Jazz 2013, the location is an idyllic setting worth visiting for the scenery alone. Fans of American Football might also feel it's worth the pilgrimage to visit the birthplace of legendary player and coach Knut Rockne—there's a statue in the town and a commemorative plaque near the railway station.

The festival's place in the calendar on the weekend preceding Easter, at the start of a holiday period, gives it the chance to draw on a potential audience that's much larger than the local population alone. It's a shrewd move which pays off: promotional materials for Vossa Jazz were all over the town, banners hung from buildings, bus stops and bar entrances, there was definitely a festival going on. The audience was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and respectful—even better, the 2014 audience was larger than the 2013 one (despite fewer events taking place) with around 5,000 people attending the concerts. The volunteers—around 260 of them, mostly young people—were equally enthusiastic and on hand at every gig to help, advise and assist.

Vossa Jazz: venues and events

The Park Hotel was the focus for Vossa Jazz. It provided accommodation for staff, performers and press: it made space for the press center and the box office; it also contained three of the festival venues. The Vossasalen was the largest of these spaces, home to most of the major concerts. The smaller Festsalen hosted some of the lesser-known or more experimental, left-field, acts and the Pentagon nightclub offered hip-hop acts and DJs into the early hours.

The festival made extensive use of other venues across Voss, all of which were within a few minutes walking distance of the Park. Of course, with multiple events on at the same time it proved impossible to experience each one, but with careful planning I made it to about a third of the 40 or so Vossa Jazz events.

Friday April 11

The honor of opening the 2014 Vossa Jazz festival went to Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers Trio—Frisell on guitar, Eyvind Kang on viola and Rudy Royston on drums. A sold out Vossasalen witnessed some beautiful playing from the trio, a worthy opening concert from three masterly musicians.

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