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Vossa Jazz 2014

Bruce Lindsay By

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Will the rest of the world get the chance to hear Rubicon? It's to be hoped so. At the dinner held to celebrate the work, festival director Trude Storheim's suggestion that it needed to be recorded and released met with universal approval. The concert had been recorded for radio broadcast, but Eilertsen explained that he would prefer to produce a studio version of Rubicon for commercial release—hopefully word will reach the ears of at least one discerning label owner.

Sunday April 13

Sometimes events occur to gladden the hearts of elderly jazz fans who in their more pessimistic moments feel that the genre no longer has any meaning for the younger generation. Jazzintro was such an event. Open to young and emerging jazz bands across Norway, Jazzintro takes place every two years. A jury selects eight bands from those that apply and two bands play at each of four festivals. One band from each festival concert is chosen to play in a final concert at Molde Jazz later in the year.

Monkey Plot and Morning Has Occurred were the featured ensembles at Vossa Jazz. It's hard to imagine two more contrasting bands—one improvisational trio, one song-focused group with its roots in R&B and soul as much as jazz. A "chalk and cheese" pairing if ever there was one, but the best quality chalk and cheese.

Monkey Plot took to the stage quietly, settled into position then spent a few seconds in silent contemplation before the music began. Once underway the band carried on unceasingly for 40 minutes, playing a single improvised piece that moved from moments of total calm to flashes of assertive, energetic, invention. Okay, at one point the band members did seem to lose track of each other but they were soon on their way again and the musicians' slightly embarrassed laughter hinted at a sense of humor hitherto missing from their on-stage demeanour.

Monkey Plot's instrumentation—double bass, drums and guitar—was made rather out of the ordinary in a jazz context by Christian Skar Winther's decision to remain fully acoustic, playing his 6-string jumbo guitar into a microphone placed a few inches in front of him, with no onboard pickups and no effects. Winther's style resembled Sonny Sharrock or Duck Baker, with a touch of John Fahey in its bluesier moments. Interestingly, when he spoke with me after Monkey Plot's set he said that he had been compared to Sharrock in the past but had only recently heard him: his own influences came from rock, rather than jazz or folk.

Morning Has Occurred also performed original material, but this young quintet's set was firmly rooted in the songs of vocalist Natalie Sandtorv and pianist Marte Eberson. Sandtorv, who sang in English and Norwegian, had an expressive voice: one that drew the listener into the song and conveyed the lyric with a straightforward honesty. Songs such as "A Million Bombs" and "Icy Air" were immediately accessible, well-crafted and lyrically adept.

Sandtorv and Eberson originally formed Morning Has Occurred (the band's name comes from an Emily Dickinson poem, although she wrote "Morning has not occurred"). The band was completed by bassist Bjørnar Kaldefoss Tveite and the twin drum kits of Ole Mofjell and Mats Mæland Jensen (the most recent addition). The second drummer added extra depth to the sound and also brought additional propulsion to the faster tempos. Mofjell tended to play in a fairly straight-ahead style—he also contributed some electronic effects—Jensen took a more exploratory approach to his kit.

Two excellent young bands, but only one place at Molde Jazz up for grabs. In the end the judging panel gave the place to Monkey Plot. It can't have been an easy decision. The members of Morning Has Occurred shouldn't be disheartened—as with Rubicon, it's to be hoped that at least one discerning label owner will pick up on this talented group.

In between concerts there was time to check out This Is Not The Right Color, by the festival's visual artist in residence Kiyoshi Yamamoto. The young Japanese/Brazilian artist's exhibition was inspired by color-blindness (or color vision deficiency) and explored what this might mean for a person's experience of the world.

After a few minutes in Yamamoto's intriguing and enlightening conceptual world it was time for vibraphonist Ivar Kolve's set at the Gamlekinoen. Kolve's quintet, including his brother Kåre on tenor saxophone and Pixel bassist Ellen Andrea Wang, played his original compositions with flair and freedom. The interplay between vibes and tenor was especially joyous—Ivar Kolve's warm, precise, vibes contrasted beautifully with Kåre Kolve's throaty tenor sound, especially when Kåre opened up with some fierce, aggressive, R&B inflected playing.

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