Vossa Jazz 2016

Ian Patterson By

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It was serious business, however, when Økland and his group embarked on a suite whose title translates roughly as "The Glimmering Light." The piece began with Økland, saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrom, and bassist Mats Eilertsen on bow, stirring gentle eddies. The calm was dispelled by Hakon Morch Stene's urgent vibraphone pulse, which sounded a launching pad for more clearly defined melodic lines. Bass joined the vibraphone mantra, while Per Steinar Lie's electric guitar added dark sonic textures.

The music diminished in intensity, with instruments dropping out one by one to leave fiddle and bowed bass in sombre embrace. Harmonium and Torbjørn Økland on trumpet steered the music in a more abstract direction, with bass and Orjan Haaland's subtle cymbals briefly reigniting a groove. Rumbling drums sparked a heady ensemble passage akin to a psychedelic Fairport Convention in full cry.

The storm gave way to a softly voiced lyrical segment led first by fiddle and bass, then trumpet, over a carpet of harmonium and quietly rumbling mallets. Baritone saxophone, in unison with violin and bowed bass carved a gravely melodious course. The baritone dropping out was like a dark cloud passing to reveal the sunlight, as Økland and Eilertsen jointly engineered a slow, processional melody of simple design and stark beauty.

The spell was broken by a pulsating bass and guitar motif, soon joined by riffing fiddle, saxophone and trumpet as the sound swelled impressively. Crunching guitar and thundering drums paved the way for Nystrom's dual saxophone theatrics, with the ensemble surging towards a heady climax.

After an almost necessary pause, harmonium drone accompanied a haunting Økland melody that was as aching as an Irish lament. Poignant, meditative trumpet followed suit before a slow-chugging bass pulse ignited another stonking, and fierce ensemble charge of controlled abandon. Winding down, the rhythmic pulse continued to beat as fiddle, harmonium and trumpet dovetailed until the end, as softly as falling feathers.

There have been numerous notable commissions at Vossa Jazz since the very first in 1983, but it's hard to imagine there have been many quite as compelling as Nils Økland's "Glødetrådar."

Kare Kolve

Back in Voss' old cinema, veteran saxophonist Kare Kolve led a striking program of acoustic jazz. With bassist Anders Jormin, Mathias Eick, Ivar Kolve, Espen Berg and Per Oddvar Johansen, this was certainly an all-star sextet to get excited about. The music, it has to be said, lived up to the billing.

On the appropriately titled "Beginning" each musician got to stretch out, with Berg's classically tinged, elegant unaccompanied solo at the start, and his jazzier flight towards the song's end the pick of the bunch. Jormin's soulful arco intro stood out on "Sir K.W," an atmospheric tribute to the late, great Kenny Wheeler, with Ira Kolve delivering a wonderfully light yet coursing solo.

Korve's writing maximized the individual talent, with plenty of solos that engaged without ever overstaying their welcome. Yet the arc of the songs, indeed of the concert as a whole, balanced individualism and collective harmony. Hypnotic vibraphone announced "The Odyssey," a tune laden with interlocking motifs both urgent and languid, memorable too for Eick's strongly contoured solo and, by way of contrast, Berg's dizzying freewheeling.

"Melancholia" did what it said on the tin's label, though there was greater warmth in Eick's persuasive solo here than in the puffs-of-air lyricism that colors a lot of his own, highly recommended solo work. Likewise, Eick was in ebullient form on the buoyant "The Beauty of Being," his outstanding chops pushing Berg to a spirited response. A drum solo executed with hands, as surprising for its length as for its subtlety, completely recalibrated the ambiance, putting in striking relief the lively saxophone and piano-dominated passage that followed.

The encore took things down a notch or two, the leader's emotive, weaving solo and his brother Ivar's sympathetic response at the heart of another soulful tune. An accomplished, sensitive composer and a natural leader who brings the best out of those around him, Kolve's impressive set begged the question as to why he hasn't recorded more frequently as a leader.

Hedvig Mollestad Trio

Following the memorable Ragnhild Furebotten concert the Café Station bar was once again packed to the hilt, this time for the Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen Trio. The guitarist's incendiary trio set out its jazz-metal stall with its uncompromising debut, Shoot! (2011), and since then its reputation has only grown at home and abroad with the subsequent releases All Them Witches (2013) and Enfant Terrible (2014)—all on the Rune Grammofon label.

A tour of North America and a support slot for John McLaughlin's Fourth Dimension at the EFG London Jazz Festival 2014 further raised Mollestad's international reputation. At the McLaughlin gig, in the formal setting of the Royal Festival Hall, Mollestad asked jokingly if the audience had its seatbelts buckled. The trio, sure enough, takes no prisoners.

With a new studio CD and a live recording due for release in May, this gig was something of a farewell to some of the material upon which Mollestad's trio has built its name these past five years. And with bassist Ellen Brekken unavailable, drummer Ivar Loe Bjornstad had a new rhythmic partner in Red Kite's Trond Frones, who did a wonderful job. "Laughing John" made a powerful opening statement, with fast bass lines, pounding drums and Mollestad's industrial riffing paving the way for the guitarist's searing improvisation.

Mollestad's crying, sometimes ecstasy-driven guitar lines certainly contained the blues -Jimi Hendrix-hued on blistering tunes like the foot-to-the-floor metal of "The New Judas," Black Sabbath-esque on the doomy rock of "For The Air"; on the latter, Mollestad drew a violin bow across her strings before launching the trio into alternatively fast-paced and then slow-grunge passages.

Occasionally, Mollestad stepped off the stage to rock out with the crowd; blasts of wah-wah and feedback punctuated her breathless runs, but there was space too for more overt lyricism on "Pity the Children"—in between the grungier segments.

There are few more thrilling guitarists regardless of genre than Mollestad, and few more raucously exciting trios in the amorphous territory where instrumental rock, metal and improvised music co-exist. Destined for bigger stages? Without a doubt.


Norway boasts plenty of bands every bit as uncompromising as the Hedvig Mollestad Trio, yet whose roots are more overtly jazz-based. The quartet Cortex is one such group. Formed in 2007, albums such as Resection (Bolage, 2011), Göteborg (Gigafon, 2012) and Cortex: Live (Clean Feed Records, 2014) have established Cortex as one of the most technically proficient and visceral of contemporary jazz ensembles.

It wasn't accidental that cornet player Thomas Johansson evoked Don Cherry to saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts' Ornette Coleman, for the quartet's free-spirited avant- garde music owed much to that historic pair. Bassist Ola Hoyer and drummer Gard Nilssen's elastic polyrhythms were intense and thrilling to behold.

Grooving bass ostinatos, melodious unison lines, dissonant skronk and tumultuous drumming made for a potent cocktail, with little let-up in the intensity during the seventy-minute set. A Spanish tinge and the more codified language of bebop occasionally filtered through the prevailing free-jazz storm, creating a tension in the music between the chaotic and the controlled. For the audience, like as not for the musicians, it was an enthralling yet draining experience.

Jazz Mass

Sunday morning brought the faithful to Vangskyrkja, a thirteenth century church in the centre of Voss, for a jazz mass. The great stone cross on the south side of the church is said to have been raised in 1023 by King Olav Haraldson, in an effort to convert the pagans to Christianity. This morning, a thousand years later, the idea was to convert the Christians to jazz.

A striking edifice both inside and out, the unusual, wooden octagonal steeple rises above the stonework in a curious meeting of materials and periods. Inside, a quasi-leopard-print pattern adorns the wooden beams of the ceiling. The stone alter dates to medieval times and baroque and Renaissance styles co-exist in the church's details.

As bells rang out, the twenty-two piece choir rose to its feet and stood impassively as the peels sounded for a full minute. The cessation of the bells signalled the commencement of Duke Ellington's "Heaven," from the jazz great's Second Sacred Concert (Prestige, 1969), with vocalist Kor splendidly reprising the role of Alice Babs; empathetic support came from guitarist Kare Nytun, double bassist Arne Toivo Fjose and pianist Magnus Kloften.

Quartet and choir joined on a series of familiar psalms, rising to a celebratory rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In"—a gospel song shared by the churches of Christianity and jazz alike—and concluding the service with the traditional spiritual "Let My People Go," which, with its themes of oppression, bondage and exodus, struck a contemporary chord in these turbulent times.

Morten Qvenild

Arguably best known for his role in the internationally renowned group In The County, pianist and keyboardist Morten Qvenild has played in numerous, quite diverse settings over the past fifteen years, from Jaga Jassist and Shining to the duo sPacemoNkey with Gard Nilssen. In recent years Qvenild has been experimenting with the integration of electronics with piano, and the fruit of his labour is his impressive, debut solo recording, Personal Piano (Hubro, 2016).

This recording, these years of experimentation, were the inspiration for this midday concert in the Ole Bull Academy.

With the lights turned off in the packed room, Qvenild approached the piano and a bank of instruments wearing a head-lamp. For the next hour or so, he proceeded to mine an array of sounds both organic and electronically filtered. Qvenild's processed vocal on the ballad "Turning, Returning," interspersed by searching piano lines and ambient textures, set the tone for the performance.

In turn, melodic, meditative and emotionally charged, Qvenild orchestrated a hypnotic performance of suite-like continuity. On Calvin Harris' "We Found Love" —a hit for Riahnaa—Qvenild rode a sparse piano groove, though the minimalist electronic pop gave way to a tumbling piano improvisation, which led in turn to a plucked piano strings coda.

Sombre yet elegant hymnal melodies bled into slow, reverb-heavy pulses over sampled rhythms. Slow motion, fugue-like minimalism was juxtaposed against precisely sculpted electronic soundscapes. Qvenild's acoustic/electronic chemistry was lulling yet uplifting and utterly seductive, and provided a highlight of Vossa Jazz 2016.

Stein Urheim: Traveling With the Natural Cosmolodic Orchestra

A pervious recipient of the Vossa Jazz Award (2010), guitarist Stein Urheim has worked in an eclectic range of musical settings, in a duo with Mari Kvien Brunvoll, with Gabriel Fliflet's Aresong band and from rock band Steady Steele to HP Gundersen's drone band The Last Hurrah! His own recordings as leader have been widely praised in the music press, with The Quietus' John Doran describing Stein Urheim (Hubro Records, 2014)—the guitarist's third release as leader—as "kind of mind blowing."

Given the range of his collaborations, it shouldn't have come as a surprise that this commissioned work for Vossa Jazz 2016 combined multiple musical elements The episodic narrative switched between composed form and free improvisation, with Per Jorgensen, Kjetil Moster, Mari Kvien Brunvoll, Ole Morten Vagan and Kare Opheim flitting in and out of collective passages and more intimate dialogs with controlled passion.



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