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Vossa Jazz 2016

Ian Patterson By

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Powerful group dynamics were at the heart of a searching, post-Coltrane exploration, whereas a playful Afro- Caribbean vibe colored "Catalan Boy." On the latter, Hulbaekmo unleashed a swashbuckling solo before the jaunty melody returned to make a final pass. The inevitable encore swung between sotto voce balladry and more intense group exclamations before Paulsberg steered the tune quietly to its conclusion.

Paulsberg's HPC is clearly on an upward trajectory. Its sound may have remained largely unchanged over the course of more than four years but the chemistry is ever-more pronounced and the collective playing on undeniably strong material is absolutely first-rate. In short, a quartet that would grace any stage in the world.

There was time to catch the tail end of fiddler Ragnhild Furebotten's gig in the cosy, pub-like surroundings of the Café Station. Saxophonists Torben Snekkestad and Frode Nymo, trombonist/arranger Helge Sunde, trumpeters Marius Haltti and Eckhard Baur, and tuba player Lars Andreas Haug—aka Never on a Sunday—provided vibrant support to Furebotten's jazzed-up folk tunes from Norway's far North.

In the ensemble's driving rhythms there was something of the energy of Balkans music and in the leader's joyous, elegant melodies resided hints of Celtic reels alongside Norwegian hymnal roots. More of this soulful, uplifting folk music wouldn't have gone amiss.

Red Kite

There was a bit of a buzz about the quartet Red Kite's gig. With a line-up boasting guitarist Even Helte Hermansen (Bushman's Revenge), keyboardist Bernt Moen (Shining), bassist Trond Frones (Grand Central) and drummer Torstein Lofthus (Shining, Elephant9), Red Kite constitutes a modern day Norwegian super-group. Its full-on sound fused super-charged rock with a free-jazz aesthetic -a sort of gothic Mahavishnu Orchestra for the 21st century. Red Kite's energy was undeniable and Hermansen in particular impressed with one blistering solo after another. After a while, however, the compositions seemed to blend together as one.

The band wasn't helped by the venue—the Pentagon bar—where three quarters of the patrons were completely unsighted and where the noisy babble was a continuous distraction. Earlier, for the Hanna Paulsberg Concept, a smaller crowd sat on the floor in front of the stage and was very attentive throughout, but for Red Kite it was standing-room only, which meant that only those who pushed their way to the front of the cramped floor could see the band and avoid the worst of the wall of background noise. An alternative venue with more space would have served both band and audience much better. Nonetheless, Red Kite showed enough of itself to whet the appetite for another occasion.

Tony Allen

Few seventy-five-year olds take to the stage at 1.30am with a smile and leave the same way ninety minutes later. The hour was late in some respects, but the legendary Nigerian drummer and his band gave a performance high in energy and good vibes that had the standing-area portion of the crowd dancing to animated soul-funk/Afro-beat grooves.

With an extensive discography as leader—not forgetting the thirty-odd albums he cut with Fela Kuti—Allen could simply have knocked the dust covers off a few old tunes, but the master drummer has always looked forward and the set was drawn almost entirely from his most recent recording, Film of Life (Jazz Village, 2014).

The gentle opener "Tiger Skip" was little more than an introductory theme but the band was soon in full gear on "Koko Dance," propelled by Claude Debongue's mantra-like motif, Patrick Gorce's driving percussion, Just Woody's percolating bass lines, the twin-horned riffs of saxophonist Yann Jankielewicz and trumpeter Nicolas Giraud, the counter-point melody of keyboardist Jean Phil Dary, and at the centre, Allen's intoxicating hybrid of highlife, funk, traditional African roots, jazz and soul.

"Boat Journey" married infectious groove with socio-political commentary, Allen singing on the risks refugees face entrusting themselves to traffickers and crossing seas and oceans in overcrowded boats, chasing uncertain futures.

The shadow of James Brown loomed large on the funky Afrobeat of "Ire Omo," though the absence of female vocal group Adunni & Nefertiti from the recorded version was felt. Allen's cross-rhythms—dancing hi- hat/tom tom and slippery snare patterns—fired the ensemble, with Wody's booty-shaking ostinatos and Gorce's impassioned pulses adding fuel to the rhythmic fire.

If at times the music sounded a little retro, it's worth remembering that Allen has been playing such rhythms for over fifty years. "African Man," with its strutting guitar motif, riffing brass and burrowing bass raised the temperature a notch, teeing the crowd up for the stirring Afrobeat-meets-Sun Ra space trip of "Ewa."

The encore served up "Kindness," another slice of irresistibly grinding funk. It was heading for 3am when Allen and his band left to the stage to generous applause, the crowd shuffling home in the best of spirits, which is the really the essence of Allen's life-affirming music.

A Memorable, 21st Century Tableau

A beautifully crisp morning greeted day two of Vossa Jazz 2016, with the sun doing just enough to take the chill out of the air. By the frozen lake, Samere and Fikru, refugees from Eritrea living near Voss, surveyed the panorama. The pair admitted to being worried at the proposed plans by the Norwegian government to repatriate Eritrean asylum seekers, as they gazed at the kite surfers gliding up and down the frozen lake. "We have never seen anything like this," said Samere.

A short distance away, in Voss' central square, the annual jazz parade started up. The celebratory music of the members of Lokomotiv roused children with percussive instruments to make glorious racket; girls with twirling batons added spectacle to the parade. This freedom to congregate, to express creativity and to have fun into the bargain is something we often take for granted, as the sight of a few asylum seekers looking on underlined.

Not since World War Two has Europe seen anything like the influx of refugees/migrants, many like Samere and Fikru from Eritrea, but many thousands too from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, all seeking a better life free from war and oppression. It is not so much a test of European resources as it is a test of European humanity.

Gard Nilssen: Blowin' In The Wind

Kite surfers were one thing but doubtless nobody had seen anything quite like the spectacle in Voss Vind. If the Valerina Fortes Orchestra's nursing home performance earlier had been an example of how weakened bodies and dulled minds respond to the stimuli of music, then Gard Nilssen's drum improvisation in conjunction with two world-class sky divers showed the extremes to which the fittest, most able-bodied are able to push themselves in response to music.

The venue was VossVind, a sky-diving centre where a vertical tunnel fifty six feet high and with a diameter of just fourteen feet channels wind at speeds of up to 300 kph. Nilssen, one of modern jazz's most thrilling drummers, gave a dynamic performance that utilized electronic soundscapes while two skydivers, Rune Aspvik and Martin Kristensen, rode the wind in a breath-taking choreography of balletic grace and daring precision.

Unable to hear Nilssen's rhythms through the glass, the two skydivers responded to visual clues: when Nilssen's sticks were a blur the skydivers circled each other—upside down—at dizzying speeds, or shot upwards, then to plummet down to within inches of the meshed floor; when brushes, mallets or hands worked the drum heads lightly, or when a bass bow drew sighs from the cymbals, the two skydivers responded with more graceful movements, floating and pirouetting slowly. A grammatical arc could be discerned in both drumming and skydiving, with the intensity of the performance ebbing and flowing, reaching a heady climax before dissolving.

After half an hour, with the protagonists' feet firmly on the ground—while the audience was most likely still high- -Nilssen explained that the performance had been about eighty per cent improvised. It was a typically left-field and audacious piece of programming by Vossa Jazz, beautifully executed by Nilssen, Aspvik and Kristensen. Maybe the only way to top this in the future would be to have Nilssen and one of his ensembles perform on the other, slightly windier side of the glass. Just a thought.

Gabriel Fliflet

Norwegian folk music is an important element of Vossa Jazz, which might seem odd to some at first. However, given that so much contemporary Norwegian jazz is inspired by the country's traditional music, then the juxtaposition of folk and jazz at Vossa Jazz serves to illuminate the bigger picture.

The instrumentation, melodies and rhythms of Norwegian folk continue to find their way into contemporary Norwegian jazz, with Daniel Herskedal and Marius Neset's sublime Neck of the Woods (Edition Records, 2012) being just one recent and notable example.

The packed cinema hall—with people sitting on the floor all the way around the walls—attested to the popularity of accordionist Gabriel Fliflet, Norwegian Folk Musician Of The Year 2011, and a previous recipient of the Vossa Jazz prize. In a thirty year career, Fliflet has explored the music of the Baltic Sea region and delved into Scottish folk music of the Shetland Islands with fiddler Willie Hunter and guitarist Peerie Willie Johnson. This project, however, commissioned by Vossa Jazz, required Fliflet to put new music to Johannes Gjerdaker's award-winning translations of the songs of Scottish poet/lyricist Robert Burns, an important influence on, amongst others, Bob Dylan.

In the trio's delivery—Berg singing in Norwegian—there was both the tenderness and some of the humor of Burns' pen: the former was epitomized by Berg's haunting rendition of "A Red, Red Rose"—a song that still captivates and inspires over two hundred years later—with Fliflet's accordion sounding a low, bag pipe-like drone; the latter was conjured in the Burns' tune "O Gud Ale Comes and Gud Ale Goes"—a homage to the cheering properties of good beer.

Fliflet switched to piano on one gently lyrical tune, while Berg plucked a jaw harp on another, taken at a livelier clip that evoked a Scottish jig. There was genuine feeling for these old Scottish tunes although the prevailing aesthetic, in terms of instrumentation and rhythms, was assuredly Norwegian.

A good tune well delivered, as Flifelt Berg and Roine demonstrated, knows no borders and is for the ages. This was music both traditional and innovative at one and the same time.

Nils Økland: Glødetrådar

Prior to Nils Okland's performance, Vossa Jazz festival director Trude Storheim presented the Vossa Jazz Award for Best Jazz Musican to Oyvind Skarbo, perhaps best known for 1982, a one-of-a-kind trio with Økland and Sigbjorn Apeland that has garnered critical acclaim for albums such as 1982 (NORCD, 2009), Pintura (Hubro Records, 2011) and 1982 + BJ Cole (Hubro Records, 2012).

Skarbø also plays in and composes for Bly de Blyant, whose label-resistant music fuses elements of jazz, folk, rock and pop, and in the wonderful opera-cum-jazz group, the Hakon Kornstad Ensemble. All three bands are well worth checking out.

The Head of Hordaland County, Anne Gine Hestetun then gave a speech, which drew enough laughter to suggest that should she ever hang up her robes of high office then a career in comedy beckons.
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