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Vossa Jazz 2015

Henning Bolte By

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VOSSA JAZZ
Voss
March 28 -29, 2015

Vossa Jazz, founded in 1973, an annual three-day event with a great variety of groups and acts, is a highly prestigious jazz festival in Norway. Thanks especially to its commissions and awards, it has an important national and international function. In 1983 the festival became the first in Europe to start assigning commission work. After more than 30 years the series has become an impressive list including Arild Andersen's Sagn (ECM, 1994) and Terje Rypdal's Vossabrygg (ECM, 2006). Nils Petter Molvaer's classic Khmer (ECM, 1997) began its life as a Vossa Jazz commission titled "Labyrinths."

My first visit to the festival was restricted to Saturday and Sunday, March 28 and 29. Yet even these two days alone offered such a great diversity of events and acts, that it was impossible to attend and cover them all—like the performances of Carsten Dahl, Julia Biel, Peter Evans, Thea Hjelmeland, Steinkopf&Lauvas, Supersonic with the Jazz Choir of Voss (Jazz For Children commission), Fiflet/Hamre with Bergen Big Band, the youth concert Peace, Love and Swing, and Svein Olav Herstad Trio.

Ambience

Voss is a municipality of about 14,000 inhabitants in Hordaland county, 100 kilometres east of the city of Bergen, right in between the southern Hardangerfjord and the northern Sognefjord. Situated in the valley at lake Vangsvatnet it offers magnificent mountainous scenery with an ever impressive continual theatre of light. It is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, forests, lakes, and fast flowing white water rivers. Since the 1960s it has developed into a notable center of skiing, water sports, skydiving, paragliding, and other adventure sports. The area hosts the annual Ekstremsportveko, the Extreme Sports Week (in combination with a lot of music) in the last week of June, which is regarded as the world's premier extreme sports festival.

Character

The annual jazz festival always takes place in the weekend before Easter and is a high level Scandinavian affair presenting only a few non-Scandinavian musicians and groups. This year a Portuguese group, two British groups, and one solo-act from the United States were among some 30 programmed acts. There were two mixed groups with predominantly Norwegian proportions, such as The Young Mothers of Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and the French-Italian-British-Norwegian group of drummer Manu Katche.

It was the festival's 42nd edition and the 8th of current director Trude Storheim. Storheim, who is the same age as the festival, is intimately inter-grown with the festival's history and the area where it is held. She is one of the real vital global locals. This is clearly manifested in the programming and documented by recordings of festival productions on internationally renowned labels. The profile of the festival, according to Storheim, is jazz combined with folk music—both the Norwegian version of folk music and world music in a strong, innovative and trendsetting way.

Storheim heads an all female staff aided by a highly motivated troupe of 200 volunteers of all genders. They ensured smooth running for the festival and achieved the same ticket sales as the year before. There were exceptional weather conditions for traveling to Voss (blizzard in Oslo) but even the Ekstremjazz performance, —one of the special items besides jazz for kids and for elders—happened as planned with pianists Jon Balke and Andreas Ulvo together with vocalist Åshild Vetrhus. Only one show had to be cancelled due to illness of one of the performers.

Smalahovemiddagen

Embedded into the rich variety of activities is smalahovemiddagen, a genuine old Voss traditional mouton head dinner —'smala' the (old) Norwegian word for sheep and 'hoven' the word for head. Nowadays lamb is used for this dish. The skin and fleece of the head is torched and the brain removed, then the head is salted, sometimes smoked or dried. The head is then boiled or steamed for about three hours. It is served with mashed rutabaga (turnip) and potatoes. Every person is served one integral head. First the ears have to been eaten, then the rest. The big treats are the eyeballs and real heroes also suck the fat lying behind the eyes of the skull. A smalahove meal is not only accompanied by large amounts of beer and aquavit but by telling stories and singing (old) songs. This time, Bjørn Tomren aka Polkabjørn gave a wry comical demonstration of virtuosic yodelling and overtone singing. Still more impressive was the closing bard singing of Jon Skjerdal, the director of Bergen's Nattjazz Festival.

Diversity, interconnectedness, climate change

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