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Vossa Jazz 2016

Ian Patterson By

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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.

Urheim used graphic notation—images drawn from the disparate worlds of architect Buckminster Fuller, experimental musician Harry Partch, composer Eivind Groven and writer Aldous Huxley—to inspire the musicians, and there was certainly a very personal response to the more obviously free passages of music. Jazz and Norwegian folk roots dominated melodically, but Carnatic rhythms, African grooves, Stein's ethereal sound sculpting, subtle electronics, sampled voice and quite abstract interludes were all woven into the sweeping tapestry.

There was a little of Joe Zawinul's maxim "everybody solos and nobody solos," though there were standout individual moments, notably from Stein, Jorgensen and Moster. The cacophony of collective free improvisation contrasted with more melodious discourse and vocal harmonies as the music rose and fell in waves.

Stein and the musicians were greeted with a rousing ovation from the audience in the old cinema—a fitting response to a successful musical adventure, bold in scope and wonderfully executed.

Tord Gustavsen, Simin Tander, Jarle Vespestad

The birth of a new trio featuring Tord Gustavsen, Jarle Vespestad and Simin Tander was a mouth-watering live prospect to be sure.

Gustavsen is, without a doubt, one of Norway's most internationally renowned musical exports, with a string of successful albums on ECM under his belt. German/Afghan singer Simin Tander is, by comparison, perhaps not so well known, though her two solo recordings to date, Wagma (Neuklang Records, 2011) and When Water Travels Home (Jazzhaus Records, 2014) have established her credentials as a deeply personal, fearless and original modernist.

On the latter recording Tander interpreted several Afghan poems in Pashto and it was these heartfelt, lyrical songs that caught the attention of Gustavsen who proposed a collaboration. Norwegian hymns sung in Pashto, and Persian poet Rumi's poems sung in English found their way onto the quietly stunning work What Was Said (ECM, 2016), which provided the heart of this concert.

Feathery rubato piano and softly sighing cymbals provided sympathetic accompaniment to Tander's aching delivery on "Sweet Melting." That this was one of the latter tracks on the CD suggested that some thought went into how best to present this music sequentially in the live arena. The implied rhythms of the hushed opener were followed by the probing beat of drum and damped piano pulses on the hypnotic "Journey of Life," where Tander switched between Pashto and wordless improvisation.

On her solo recordings Tamin has sung in multiple languages and her own improvisations constitute a language all her own. "Your Grief" and "What Was Said to The Rose" were sung in English, the former a sotto voce lament, while the latter burned with poetic intensity, framed by Gustavsen's rumbling gravitas and Vespestad's restless stirrings.

To the slow-funk groove of the instrumental "The Way You Play My Heart" and on more gently swaying rhythms Tander danced the music, subtly and sensuously, in perfect harmony with her nuanced, arresting balladry. On the atmospheric "Castle in Heaven" the singer's ethereal vocals gave way to a powerful tenor cry, with Vespestad and Gustavsen ratcheting up the intensity. A standing ovation brought the trio back for a merited encore of "The Source of Now" -another haunting ballad, sung in English.

Pleasingly, the set included two new songs, one of them birthed at the rehearsal earlier in the day, which suggests that this project may go beyond a single album. This was a captivating performance from a special trio, whose empathy for one another, and for this lyrical poetry, resulted in music that will remain indelibly imprinted on the memory.

Tenor Battle

Opera and jazz might sound a little kitsch, an excuse perhaps for a light-hearted fusion ideal for smooth jazz radio, but Hakon Kornstad's performance in Voss' thirteenth century church was an outstanding marriage of two distinct idioms. Kornstad's pedigree as a first-rate saxophonist and genre-bender has been well documented on the Jazzland Recordings releases Single Engine (2007), Dwell Time (2009) and Symphonies In My Head (2011) but few could have predicted his venture into opera. Yet as the Kornstad CD Tenor Battle (2015) revealed, Kornstad, remarkably enough, possess a tenor voice every bit as impressive as his saxophone playing.
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