Vossa Jazz 2016

Ian Patterson By

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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.
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