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Vossa Jazz 2016

Ian Patterson By

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Some of the audience members—mostly octogenarians and nonagenarians—mouthed or quietly sang almost every word of the songs of their youth. Others tapped feet, or clapped hands as gently and quietly as the beating of a butterfly's wings. Smiles were in good supply.

At the end of the performance, Helga Øvstedal, an occupational therapist in this nursing home since 2003, spoke of the importance of such musical performances to the elderly residents. "You could see the smiles on their faces," said Helga, "but they talk about the concert for days after. Music is a great therapy for the elderly. It brings back old memories. One lady, who is eighty six, told me after, 'I want to dance.'"

Something for Everybody

Friday's wonderfully eclectic, though carefully constructed program offered a little of everything, from the scintillating acoustic/electric hybrid of Dave Holland's trio and the outré experimentation of singer Sidsel Endresen and electronics/sampling wizard Jan Bang, to the post-Coltrane jazz of the elegant saxophonist Hanna Paulsberg. Red Kite's searing, metal-edged fusion, the Afro-beat funk of the legendary Tony Allen and the sophisticated pop of Susanne Sundfør drew quite diverse crowds to Vossa Jazz and more than likely introduced some people to music they mightn't ordinarily check out.

Dave Holland Trio

A man nattily attired in traditional costume sounded a melodious blast from a mountain long horn to officially open Vossa Jazz 2016. This was followed by a few words of welcome from festival director Trude Storheim and then guest speaker and acclaimed writer Ruth Lillegraven. It was then the task of Dave Holland's trio, featuring Kevin Eubanks and Obed Calvaire, to kick-start the festival proper, and it did so with a continuous, largely improvised one-hour performance.

With the notable exception of Holland's outstanding recent duo collaboration with Kenny Barron, which engendered The Art of Conversation (Decca, 2014) and a memorable tour, it's hard to recall a time when Holland wasn't at the head of a quintet, sextet or big-band. This was indeed a rare treat to witness the veteran former Miles Davis sideman in a trio context, in tandem with Eubanks and Calvaire. At the end of a four-week tour, the trio's musical ideas flowed with the well-honed precision of a familiar suite, and only occasionally lapsed into jam-like passages which struggled to assert clear direction.

Holland's, familiar, grooving ostinatos severed as launching pads for improvised exchanges that oscillated continuously between highly charged jazz-fusion and segments of chamber-like delicacy. Individual solos peppered the performance: Calvaire's powerful polyrhythmic juggling, Eubanks' more patiently built extrapolations and Holland's effortlessly lithe dances up and down the fretboard shook up the prevailing dynamic of interactive exploration.

Eubanks first recorded with Holland on the bassist's Extensions (ECM, 1990)—Downbeat's album of the year—and more recently on Prism (Daer2 Records, 2014); an original voice, the guitarist seduced with feathery soundscapes that gradually transformed into soaring flights, part Jimi Hendrix, part James Blood Ulmer. His gritty blues improvisation—with an especially lyrical response from Holland—on the slow-burning "Empty Chair" provided a set highlight.

Having rediscovered the taste for leading a trio—possibly the first time since the late 1980s—and reconnecting with the electric guitar, Holland seems to have found fresh, fertile territory to explore. He may yet return to the larger group format he's favoured for so long but the potential of this trio suggests that it would please a lot of folk if he managed to juggle both.

Sidsel Endresen & Jan Bang

With as many as four gigs running simultaneously at Vossa Jazz, a little hopping around gave a taste of the diversity of music on offer. This was made possible given that four of the venues were in the Park Hotel and the others were all within walking distance Susanne Sundfør, the critically acclaimed, commercially successful singer-songwriter, who has collaborated with electro-popsters Röyksopp, and with Nils Petter Molvaer on Baboon Moon (Sula Records, 2011) drew arguably the biggest crowd of the festival to the Voossasalen.

A minute down the road in the Gamlekinoen —an old cinema—Sidsel Endreson and live sampling innovator Jan Bang forged a bold improvisational duologue, which, while seemingly far from a jazz aesthetic, nevertheless delved into the sort of fearless improvisation that jazz typically claims as a pillar of its unique identity.

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