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Vossa Jazz 2016

Ian Patterson By

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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.

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.

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