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Vossa Jazz 2015

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

Folk music and jazz were the obvious but nonetheless challenging keywords for the commission of the opening concert. The connection had previously been done with great success by, among others, bassist Arild Andersen with his commission work Sagn from 1990 with folk singer Kirsten Bråten Berg (ECM, 1994). Jazz pianist, composer and arranger Erlend Skomsvoll was chosen this year to unite a star team from both genres to perform at the festival opening.

Skomsvoll is a musician who has participated in many collaborations in the fields of classical music and rock (three albums with prominent Norwegian rock band Kaizers Orchestra). Last year he earned the prestigious Spellemansprisen in the Classical Music category, for his rendition of Grieg's Holberg Variation s (Simac, 2014), called recompimprovariations by himself.

He worked with his own group Come Shine for a long time, acted as a conductor and arranger for Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, and collaborated with top international names like Pat Metheny and Chick Corea. He has a long time fascination for Norwegian folk music, and it was time finally to bring that into practice. He chose musicians who fully master folk and related styles: vocalist Wenche Losnegård, fiddler Erlend Apneseth, guitarist Anders Røine, bassist Ole Morten Vågan, percussionist Birger Mistereggen and young drum talent Hans Hulbækmo who recently took over the drum chair from Paal Nilssen-Love of renowned Swedish-Norwegian group Atomic.

The first—not attended—phase of the festival was full of incentive diversity. There was young country singer Ida Jenshus with her group and a couple of duos and trios, such as the duo of sPacemoNkey (pianist Morten Qvenild/drummer Gard Nilssen), of pianist Espen Eriksen and trumpeter Gunnar Halle (tr), as well as guitarist Martin Hagfors with trombonist Eirik Johannessen. Then the trio of pianist Harald Dahlstrøm, saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm and percussionist Ole Hamre, the trio In The Country with singer Froda Annevik, the new trio of Ellen Andrea Wang with pianist Andreas Ulvo and drummer Grad Nilssen and Finish trio PLOP with saxophonist Mikko Innanen, bassist Eeron Tikkanen and drummer Jonas Riippa.

Well-known trio In The Country presented its collaboration with outstanding singer Frida Ånnevik on poems of Hans Børli, documented on the brand-new album Skogenes Sang (Grappa, 2014). Young bassist/singer Ellen Andrea Wang, one of Norway's biggest upcoming talents, recently took a step out as solo artist and presented the trio of her debut album Diving (Propeller Recordings, 2014).

The trio Supersonic (saxophonist Petter Frost Fadnes, guitarist Chris Sharkey and drummer Ståle Birkeland) got together with the Vossa Jazz choir for this year`s commissioned work of Children`s Jazz. They worked on making music from traffic noise and the rumbles of washing machines. A school not simply of making music but, in the first place, a school of getting music by listening attentively.

It went on with the quartets Fluxed Markings with pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, Fredrik Ljungkvist, woodwinds, bassist Mike Majkowski and drummer Dag Magnus Narvesen, and Swedish punk jazz group Se & Hör of saxophonist Anna Högberg, jazzcat of the Year 2013, with trumpeter Niklas Barnö, bassist Emil Skogh, drummer Dennis Egberth and two large ensembles, The Young Mothers, with Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and the ensemble of Finnish saxophonist Mikko Innanen, 10+.

Saxophonist Trygve Seim performed in a series of spoken word related acts: first with actor and writer Henrik Mestad -which had to be cancelled— and then with actor Thorbjørn Harr and bassist/rapper Aslak Hartberg (together with trumpeter Sjur Milleteig, drummer Per Oddvar Johansen and pianist Jørn Øien). Seim would also play on the last day in the group of Sinikka Langeland.

What you see is not only augmentation of jazz by pop, rock and folk acts, but a high degree of diversity and interconnectedness of musicians operating in different genres crossed in one group or between groups. It is also quite remarkable that this year's Vossajazzprisen was awarded to pop singer Thea Hjelmeland (1987). With her second album Solar Plexus (TheaH Music, 2014) she was already awarded the prestigious Spellemannprisen (the Norwegian Grammy), in the Indie Pop category last year.

Commissions play an important role for Vossa Jazz Festival, with Tingingsverket, the main commission, one of the most prestigious assignments in Norwegian jazz. This year's commission—supported by generous funding from Norwegian Art Council—was, however, the first one in the history of the festival not to be recorded and broadcast by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. It was the first time the P2 department, with its own jazz employees, did not attend the festival. Editorial cuts of NRK culture has hit P2 jazz coverage of NRK. From four permanent weekly journalistic jazz programs in 2009, NRK P2 cut back to one weekly fixed magazine program about jazz. As a result, the public no longer benefits from productions realized through considerable public funding. At first glance it seems a question of money, but in fact it is a clear sign of cultural climate change.

Live Maria Roggen

This year's commission of Tinkingsverket was assigned to revered vocalist Live Maria Roggen (1970) who composed the work entitled "Apokaluptein—The Uncovering." Her career as a musician is as impressive as it is successful, with acts like Wibutee, and not least Come Shine, who played at Vossa Jazz last year to standing ovations. Roggen has gone the grades from a budding violin pupil as a kid to her current position as professor of vocal jazz at the Norwegian Academy of Music. In 2007 she won the Norwegian Grammy (Spellemannprisen) with her album Circuit Songs.

For "Apokaluptein—The Uncovering" Roggen worked out her reflection and expression of extreme disturbance, breakdown, and devastation in people's life and their habitat in musical form. She did not do that as a doom scenario, but from the perspective of radical, uprooting change that causes the destruction of some things and the surfacing of others. 'Apokaluptein' for her means that something withdraws and something else appears, or is uncovered. The ensemble she chose to perform the work consisted of close collaborators from her musical past plus strong musicians who could create contrasts and resistance within the group during the turbulent process of shaping the opus. Like Audun Kleive, one of the most profiled Norwegian percussion-musicians, Lene Grenager, cellist and composer in contemporary music known from the renowned all female key ensemble SPUNK (Maja S.K. Ratkje, Hild Sofie Tafjord, Kristin Andersen) and her work with Swedish singer Sofia Jernberg, Icelandic guitarist Hilmar Jensson, known from internationally renowned bands of, amongst others, Jim Black and Trevor Dunn, and last but not least, famous Norwegian sound designer Asle Karstad. It turned out to be a Magnus Opus where glorious rise and confidence were sharply confronted with reduction to bare physical facts of existence, with disturbance and reorientation, acceptance and resurrection executed by employing a multi-stylistic, triangulation approach which worked as both disturbing and (re)orienting. Kleive, Jensson and Grenager fulfilled their sharp-cutting role within a firm, agile and highly dynamic ensemble. It was a challenge to direct and tell the tale with its changing musical means of expression. Roggen did it in a rock-solid manner giving way to the flow, eruption, distortion and rebuilding of the music. The music finally faded into encouraging clicks and whispers. Roggen's work had undeniable topicality.

Manu Katché

Last time I spoke to French drummer Manu Katché, we talked about the sound of snow up in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Hence I guess Katché, an avid skier, felt comfortable at Voss and liked it there. Plus, he is pretty familiar with Norwegian musicians. His quartet started out years ago with the great Jan Garbarek continuing with saxophonist Trygve Seim, trumpeter Mathias Eick and now for some years saxophonist Tore Brunborg, a Voss native. The great surprise at Voss: a new Norwegian band member, besides Brunborg, Italian trumpeter Luca Aquino, and English pianist Jimmy Watson, appeared on stage. It was bassist Ellen Andrea Wang, the first woman in the group. She will be on deck for the next tour dates and the next recording in May as a member of the group, a quintet now. Katché introduced her as the first bassist in his group because of her personality and special energy, young and female. The group played a vivid, energetic set full of joy which cheered up the audience. Katché gave his musicians space to excel, including the new bassist (who did not sing, as she does in her own groups) without neglecting his own graceful soloing. He was the master, but one as light as a bunch of colorful feathers.

Rodrigo Amado

The next act, Rodrigo Amado's Motion Trio with trumpeter Peter Evans in the basement Festsalen, seemed of quite a different, heavy calibre but the most thrilling qualities of its performance were actually wonderfully floating passages emerging from the heavy roars and salvos, the high energy cross-firing it started with. Just the contrast and the quality of transitions gave it its thrilling effect. Another speciality of Amado's Motion Trio is the cello of Miguel Mira. Contrary to many of the cellists in jazz, he is not posing at all. He is the diligent worker, totally focused on his instrument. He brings flexibly aptly, in a variety of modes by which it contributes much more than just a single instrument. The way he walked his cello was something else. Amado, co-founder of the legendary Lisboan Clean Feed Records, started the trio about eight years ago. It has grown considerably, witness its latest record The Freedom Principle on Lithuanian NoBusiness Record. Amado has a heavy, Illinois Jaquet type tenor sound. He is a determined, energetic player but won't over blow just for the sake of showing how heavy he is. He works from and to the structuring of the music no matter if it is quiet or fast and roaring loud. From that quality the aforementioned floating emerged, with the challenge not to rest on it but getting it through to a new thriving transition. Gabriel Ferrandini, the youngest band member, has become one of the most impressive young 'free' drummers in the field, with a significant personal style. His drumming is explosive, with a great flow, full of nuance and quick dynamic adaptation to all modes of movement. Finally, Peter Evans is the hyper trumpeter of this moment who not only has considerably stretched the range of trumpet playing and sound, but pushes the envelope amazingly every time. He has all techniques at his disposal and utilizes them in astounding ways, with stunning endurance that also manifested itself in his solo-concert the next day at Ole Bull Academy. Equipped with these capabilities, the group accomplished a fairly high degree of articulation and beautiful high standard interlocking transitions. The group continues their European tour after this Vossa Jazz appearance and will be seen on a couple of festivals this summer. Recommended!

Savage Rose

Savage Rose is one of the oldest still existing and active European/Scandinavian rock bands, founded in 1967 by Thomas and Anders Koppel, famous jazz drummer Alex Riel, Jens Rugsted, Flemming Ostermann (later replaced by Nils Tuxen), and singer Annisette Hansen, later Thomas Koppel's wife. The line-up and style of the band changed through the years with Annisette Koppel's voice as the most continuous, constitutional, and identifiable element. When cofounder Thomas Koppel died suddenly in 2006, the band went on and it is still vital and immediately recognizable today. Roots Of The Wasteland (2014) is their latest album, the 24th in the band's history. The ever strong-going voice and spirit of Annisette is now backed by her daughter Naja Rosa Koppel and the young band of Palle Hjort (organ, keys), Runa Kjeldsen (guitar, mandolin), Frank Hasselstrøm (trombone, trumpet, keys), Jakob Faldgren (bass, moog), Anders Holm Jensen (drums) and Anima Carsce Nissen (vocals). The band is cooking hot and an absolute must-see. The show was a vivid ritual full of pleasure. It beats a lot of present jam bands and has a real deeply rooted stem. It was a deeply vocalized celebration of continuity and impermanence.

Nils Økland

Violinist Nils Okland (1961) has been a border crosser between folk music, classical and contemporary music, jazz, and rock for a long time. He has drawn his very own approach and signature from it that was manifested on Rune Grammofon albums and in the last years on ECM. There was Lisøen (2011), his hommage to Ole Bull (1810-1880) from Bergen, the world famous Norwegian Paganini, together with organist/ethnomusicologist Sigbjörn Apeland, then recently Lumen Drone (2014) with electric guitarist Per Steinar Lie and drummer Ørjan Haaland of Norwegian 'post-rock' group The Low Frequency In Stereo. At Vossa Jazz he performed with the ensemble of Kjølvatn pieces from this upcoming ECM album. The ensemble of Kjølvatn has an uncommon line-up: Nils Økland, violin, hardanger fiddle and viola d`amore, Mats Eilertsen, double bass, Sigbjørn Apeland, harmonium, Rolf-Erik Nystrøm, saxophone and Håkon Mørch Stene, vibraphone/percussion, all long time collaborators. Considering Øklands instruments you can guess the direction the music is going to. The hardanger fiddle has four or five resonating under-strings and the viola d'amore still more: five to seven strings plus the same number of sympathetic strings. The combination of vibraphone and Apeland's special approach to the harmonium produces an expansion of resonances, a kind of broadband or ambient sound. But also various other uncommon sound characteristics are possible with combinations of saxophone and violin, different violins and assorted percussion devices or violins and harmonium etc.. Økland's ensemble played self-composed folk themes suitable to layering and expansion of the purely acoustic sounds. The music that came across was utterly amazing, and had a stunning effect. It sounded electronic, but with much more refined dynamics and a much clearer structure of core and periphery in the sound and the carrying/leading melody. It was music of natural sound waves, rising and falling continuously. The interplay of saxophone and violin was masterful, the use of extended techniques completely functional. The same applied to the conjunction of viola d'amore, big bass drum, and a wildly shimmering harmonium. Listening to it gave a deep focusing and major uplifting effect. It was quite a new sensation and a captivating listening experience, trippy music of a special kind. Økland again crossed a border with the music this ensemble performed. Ole Bull used a longer bow in his time to heighten certain effects of his seductive violin playing. Apparently that had a long-lasting inspirational effect on Økland, who would become the director of the academy of Bull's name, and his fellow musicians. The concert finished with an encore called "Amstel," a tune Økland once composed in a twinkling when viewing the Amstel river from his Amsterdam hotel room. Økland's ensemble was the outstanding highlight of the second part of the festival.

Sinikka Langeland

Kantele player and vocalist Sinikka Langeland from the Norwegian area of Finnskogen is a regular at Vossa Jazz. This year she performed with her reorganized group with viola-player Lars Anders Tomter, one of Norway's most distinguished classical soloists, saxophonist Trygve Seim and percussionist Markku Ounaskari pieces from her new album on ECM The Half Finished Heaven. Langeland is a musician who digs deep into the sources of ancient music and at the same time has a great ability to connect it with phrasings influenced by jazz and contemporary improvisational music. The music of The Half Finished Heaven reflects the experience and impact of nature with a particular balance of the outer physical and inner mental experience.

The performance was accompanied by visuals of Per Manning and Dag Alveng. As an introduction the visuals gave an impression of the entanglement of person, nature, and movement accompanied by Ounaskari's latent deep and dark sounds from a single, big base drum. This turned into enchanting interplay of Langeland's kantele and Ounaskari's bells and cymbals. It conjured up a magical sylvan spirit that radiated into the next pieces animated by Tomter's steady and gently sounding viola. Tomter's playing was of such natural authority that the music seemed to play itself. Whereas Langeland's voice and kantele brightened it all up, Seim's saxophone merged into both voices, Tomter's and Langeland's, transmitting sensations of the dark ground and the wandering moose.

The music retained its natural balance and tension throughout, without lapsing into nice rippling. The far and deep reach of Tomter's viola together with the constant coloring of Langeland, Ounaskari and Seim gave this performance an unforgettable momentum and met a grateful, enthusiastic audience in Gamlekinoen, the old cinema.

Real Ones with Sigbjørn Apeland: "Missa Criolla"

Real Ones is a popular five piece folk rock band from Bergen, founded in 1994, consisting of David Chelsom Vogt (violin, vocals, keyboards), Ivar Chelsom Vogt (guitar, vocals, keyboards), Jørgen Sandvik (guitar, vocals, sitar), Øystein Skjælaaen (bass, vocals), Kåre Opheim (drums, vocals). Other jazz festivals might invite them just to attract 'other' than a jazz audience but a for a festival like Vossa Jazz this would not be an option and would not suffice. There has to be something special that provides a good reason to have them playing the festival. The majority of the band members went to the Steiner school in Bergen and with their twenty years of common experience as a worldwide touring band they had the desire to perform again their junior high school project, the choir piece "Missa Criolla" by Argentina's most popular composer, Ariel Ramirez (1921-2010). The mass is based on folk genres such as chacarera, carnavalito, and estilo pampeano, with Andean influences. Real Ones brushed up even more on their already widely known vocal harmonies. Concerts in the Cathedral of Bergen and Culture Church Jacob in Oslo proved highly successful, not least with organ virtuoso Sigbjørn Apeland on church organ and harmonium. That was reason enough to invite them to perform this popular opus, written 50 years ago and premiered at Düsseldorf in 1967, in the beautiful Vangskyrkja church of Voss together with organist Sigbjørn Apeland on church organ and harmonium. This event was a good example of the ongoing process in Norway of making new refreshing combinations of music and musicians with a wonderful joyous outcome. A big pleasure to watch and listen to, and see Apeland rushing from the church organ on first floor to the harmonium down in the nave. And for aficionados of Swedish jazz pianist Bobo Stenson the music was familiar territory and a treat. In Bobo's work and recordings Ramirez is a recurrent figure.

Anneli Drecker

Vossa Jazz is an amazing affair of known names in new combinations and completely new names in combination with mainstays and known names. Vocalist and actor Anneli Drecker from Tromsø of legendary duo Bel Canto and associated with Röyksopp finished this year's festival with a high calibre band and pieces from her upcoming album Rocks And Straws on Rune Grammofon. Rocks & Straws is very much an acoustic album, based on recording techniques from the '70s and recorded with guitarist Eivind Aarset, drummer Rune Arnesen, bassist Ole Vegard Skauge, and The Arctic Philharmonic, Tromsø's acclaimed orchestra. The songs are based on lyrics by the North Norwegian cult poet Arvid Hanssen (translated into English by artist and writer Roy-Frode Løvland). Hanssen's poems are strongly influenced by the mysterious and powerful nature of this arctic region. On stage in Vossasalen: Eivind Aarset, Ole Vegard Skauge (Röyksopp), Rune Arnesen (NP Molvær, Dhafer Youssef, Annbjørg Lien) plus keyboarder Sindre Hotvedt and vocalist Jane Kelly, two long time collaborators of Drecker.

In Norway Drecker is a name so that the program description could be brief. People from outside need a series of collaborations, recognizable names as context. Besides her long tenure with Bel Canto on Crammed Disc and Röyksopp, Drecker worked and recorded with Hector Zazou, Jan Bang, Motorpsycho, Jah Wobble, Gavin Friday, DJ Krush, Tim Simenon, Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins), Guy Sigsworth, Ketil Bjørnstad and joined A-ha on two world tours as their guest singer. She has also recorded three albums based on poems by John Donne and Hart Crane.

Drecker showed clear authority as a band leader and dynamically presented strong quality songs in various stylistics ranging from unadulterated rock to acoustic ballads, with a band that played flexibly on a high level. The music proceeded varied und nuanced. It was a good convincing start with high potentials, especially in her rendition of the title song "Rocks And Straws." In this performance, The Arctic Philharmonic on the album had to be substituted by keyboards and electronics which rendered a different quality, a quality that opened the music up again such that the new pieces can grow toward each other in live performances. As a gesture Drecker took the risk and performed the tune "Little Tree" from the new album with her nine year old daughter Luna. Seeds of trust were sown, as curiosity in Drecker's new expedition was evoked by the performance.

Conclusion

Just one and half days at Vossa Jazz brought an intensity, variety, impressively high quality and a manifestation of cross-fertilization that far exceeded my expectations that were fed by the word of mouth information of colleagues and musicians. The festival offers a dizzying but never hectic multitude of events and activities. It is a small-scale and survey-able affair with a wide impressive panorama at the same time. It was a place of real openness going hand in hand with appeal, enjoyment, and delight. The programming choices made a lot of sense, the commitment was high, and the diversity had inspiring effects. The festival and the scene is still a well- oiled machine running on strong, tacit consensus. Yet apparently some dark shadows are falling on the scene, indicating shifts and change. Next year's festival will show. It will be held March 18-20.

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