April 7-9, 2017
Some places punch above their weight. Voss is one. With just 14,000 inhabitants, this small Norwegian town in the county of Hordaland, can boast a world-renowned sky-diving training centre, the country's foremost folk music academy, one of the best wine cellars in Scandinavia and, in Vossajazz, an outstanding international music festival that offers so much more than its simple name implies.
The jazz part of the equation at the 43rd edition of Vossajazz saw roaring ensemble improvisation, old school jazz standard recitals, classic quartet models founded in the bebop/hard bop schools, contemporary takes on historic jazz, and so much more that eluded facile categorization. Iconic figures in Sheila Jordan
, Tomasz Stanko
, Karin Krog
and John Surman
brought with them the majesty of time-honoured traditions, while Mette Rasmussen
's quintet, and Matthew Shipp
on solo piano, threw the rule books out of the window.
Norway's rich folkloric traditions were present in various guises; Hardanger fiddle and viola D'Amore entwined intimately, while larger ensembles stirred the blood. Terje Isungset
's use of wood, stone and waterthe most primordial of instrumentsbrought an organic element to an ensemble featuring fiddles, jazz instrumentation and electronics on the stunning premier Sildrande
Americana-flavored country, African roots music, West African folk-meets-Nordic jazz, bouyant Latin rhythms, singer-songwriters, electronica, conceptual music and synth-pop all got in on the act. Laptops and electronica were practically ubiquitous, coloring and shading the music to varying degrees.
Concerts specially curated for the old, the young and the mentally disabled brought Vossajazz to the wider community -important outreach work that harnessed the power of music to animate, educate and uplift.
In short, Vossajazz 2017 delivered a large musical menu that featured numerous highlights. With concerts in different venues overlappingin a program that ran from ten in the morning until the wee hours of the following daya few difficult choices had to be made, but it was, as the saying goes, a nice problem to have. Stefan Pasborg & Dawda Jobareth
The majority of the concerts at Vossajazz 2017 were held in various rooms large and small of the Park Voss Hotel. The most intimate venue, the Festalen, hosted a series of concerts for children, the first of which featured Stefan Pasborg
and Gambian kora player Dawda Jobareth/Stefan Pasborg
. Presenting material from their debut Duo
(ILK Music, 2016), Pasborg and Jobareth began with a Gambian flavored improvisationthe kora's gently spun melody providing the anchor as Pasborg carved out a rattling improvisation on balafon. The cantering "Mali," with Jobareth on vocals, followed a similar blueprint, but any parents accompanying their young children who thought they were in for an hour or so of such lulling folkloric balm were in for a surprise.
A flick of a pedal switch brought electricity to Jaboreth's kora strings, his dazzling improvisation, fuelled by Pasborg's animated drumming, transforming the atmosphere in the room. The acoustic "Marlong" raced along, Pasborg's increasingly heady rhythms provoking some frenzied dancing from two little girls, happily possessed by the music. Intoxicating versions of Charles Mingus
' "Better Get Hit In Your Soul" and Ornette Coleman
's "Dancing In Your Head" were vehicles for fiery improvisations, most thrillingly on the latter, with Jobareth on talking drum and Pasborg on his kit whipping up a marvellous rhythmic storm together.
Pasborg and Jaboreth's is perhaps an unusual concept, but one that was utterly convincing in its heartfelt endeavour. Tremendous stuff. Busi Ncube
The honor of playing the official opening concert of Vossajazz 2017 fell to Zimbabwean singer/multi-instrumentalist Busi Ncube. In conjunction with Vossajazz and Global Oslo Music, Ncube was premiering new music, backed by a tight eight-piece band. Sihle Hlaseka, Sibusiso Mhlanga and Carmen Hwarara provided vibrant backing harmonies and sensuous choreography, percussionist Raymond Sereba, drummer Antonio Torner and bassist Petter Barg kept the grooves bubbling, while guitarist Dag Pierre and saxophonist Ivan Mazuze alternated between counterpoint to Ncube's persuasive tenor voice, and occasional injections of virtuosity.
Inevitably, the all-seater venue stifled the urge to dance, clipping the wings a little of Ncube's joyous music. Gospel-esque cry for freedom, mbira-led ballad and upbeat, percussion-driven celebrations were the staple, though an urgent, reggae-tinged number from Ncube's days in the band Ilanga with Don Gumbo some thirty years ago shook up the format. The consistently engaging music was at its most rousing, however, when the four vocalists were entwined in harmony, spearheaded by the charismatic Ncube, and soaring on the collective rhythms.
"Tula Tula Africa" called for self-examination from Africa's warring factions, Barg's churning bass ostinato the motor in a powerful tune. Ncube, like Miriam Makeba
before her, has long sung about human rights issues, and like the great South African, she carries a musical torch that continues to inspire a younger generation of female singers/instrumentalists. Karin Krog & John Surman
English saxophonist John Surman
and Norwegian vocalist Karin Krog
are no strangers to Vossajazz, having each played her numerous times over the years. Their commission in the 2010 edition produced the album Songs about this And That
The seeds of Krog and Surman's long-standing collaboration came when the pair first met at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1968. Surman was in Mike Westbrook
's group, while Krog was the vocalist in Jan Garbarek
's quintet. Nearly fifty years on, the duo's live performances are less frequent than before, making this appearance at the GamlekinoenVoss's old cinemaan occasion to cherish.
The two wove bop unison lines on the opening numberSurman on baritone saxophone and Krog scatting with a fluency that belied her near eighty years. Standards such as "In a Sentimental Mood" and "God Bless the Child" blended with striking originals from the albums that Surman and Krog have recorded together since Cloud Line Blue
(1978), a highlight being the grooving "It Could Be Hip," with the great line "laying on beaches with fellers and peaches and wine."
Electronic voice manipulation on the spoken-word poem "Infinite Paths"the title track to the duo's 2016 recordingflirted with Sun Ra
-esque sci-fi territory, but ultimately remained earthbound due to Surman's lilting bass clarinet. Krog's unaccompanied rendition of a Norwegian folk song of religious hue bled into a wordless duet with bass clarinet, whereas Indian poetry inspired the atmospheric "Mother of Light," with its programed sitar drone. The latter was, Surman said, "a song for peace" on a day of yet another senseless terrorist attackthis time in Oslo.
Whatever the provenance or inspiration, however, the duo's chemistry was imbued with playfulness, haunting lyricism and perhaps inevitably given their long association, a certain sense of nostalgia.
The voice is a hard instrument to carry into the autumnal years and once in a while Krog strained in the upper registers, though the guile and gravitas that comes with those same years were woven to great effect on Duke Ellington
's old blues number "Rocks in My Bed." Surman sat at the piano for several numbers rooted in jazz, blues and, on the bewitching "Never Ending," contemporary balladry of the most compelling kind.
A beautifully balanced, artfully delivered performance from two of jazz's veteran road warriors. Mette Rasmussen
With the eponymous debut of her Trio Riot (Efpi, 2014) alongside tenor saxophonist Sam Andreae
and Swiss drummer David Meier
and All The Ghosts at Once
(Relative Pitch Records, 2015)a duo outing with drummer Chris Corsano
Trondheim-based Danish saxophonist Mette Rasmussen
is surely establishing herself as one of the most fearless emerging voices in the free-jazz/improvisation scene.
For this concert in the Festsalen, Rasmussen was leading an ensemble of two drums and two basses. As fiercely intense as the music frequently was, for Rasmussen, the exploration of textures seemed to be as important as collective extremes of expression, judging by the subtle and pervasive use of found objects drummers Raymond Strid
and Paul Lytton
employed on their kits.
Metallic percussive textures predominated, acting like sparks for Rasmussen, who responded at first with staccato phrasing. As the rhythms intensified, with bassists Torbjorn Zetterberg
and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten
plucking, bowing and strumming, the saxophonist stretched out. Over forty five uninterrupted minutes the music shifted momentum back and forth between stormy passages to more introspectivethough always edgyones, characterized by Rasmussen's snaking melodicism. The twin drums, flanking the stage left and right, alternated between fiercely burning energy and restless percussive rustlings, pendulum swings mirrored by the bassists, with Rasmussen sitting out the quietest segments.
A paper cup inserted into the saxophone bell brought eerie gurgling from Rasmussen, ushering in an abstract passage of brooding atmospherics. Though moods and textures were explored at length there was always a sense of evolution about the music, which meant that even the stormiest collective improvisations felt like the prelude to another plane. After three quarters of an hour Rasmussen introduced the band members, and everyone drew breath, before the quintet embarked on a much shorter piece of much the same characteristics as before.
The flow of dynamics, the force of the music at its greatest heights of intensity and the tireless commitment of the four musician made for an energizing experience that was enthusiastically received by the audience.
Collaborations in July with Craig Taborn
, Barry Guy
and Zeena Parkins
at Molde Jazz, and with Jason Moran
and Nasheet Waits
at the 58th Jazz Festival Ljubljana, Slovenia, are sure signs that Rasmussen's star is on the ascendency. A name to watch out for. Kim Myhr
The first major gig of day two of Vossajazz 2017 saw guitarist Kim Myhr
give a solo performance in the Osasalen of the Ole Bull Academy. Solo, Myhr last popped up on All About Jazz's radar in Shenzen, China, at the Oct Loft International Jazz Festival 2012
. Then, as now, Myhr came armed with a hollow-body Gibson electric guitar and a dozen boxes that brought fuzz, whammy, delay and reverb to his heady, mantra-like ruminations.
Loud enough to effectively block out thought, Myhr's potent soundscapes were built upon prolonged strumming frenzies -often with one hand, while the other twiddled knobs that mutated the sonic waves, producing an almost overwhelming sound. Repetitive, oscillating waves built towards, and sustained, plateaus of great intensity. The shifts in dynamics were subtle but acutely felt, particularly when the density of the sound waxed and waned, sucking the listener in as though by gravitational force. At its quietestsmall oases amidst the tumultMyhr teased chiming sonorities from his strings like a psychedelic mbira, or shimmering patterns that came in slowly rolling waves.
In spite of the volume, or perhaps because of it, Myhr's forty-minute sonic exploration produced a state that balanced precariously between meditative and soporific. Superjazz!
Voss's Kulturhusan aesthetically luminous modern structure housing library, performance and exhibition spacewas the venue for Superjazz!, a percussion/rhythm workshop and concert for several dozen mentally disabled people aged ten to fifty from the wider Voss area. Led by percussionist Lars Kolstad, a drum circle some fifty strong created vibrant rhythms with a cornucopia of percussive instruments that resonated throughout the Kulturhus. After initial guidance the participants took it in turns it in turns to initiate rhythm patterns, picked up by Kolstad and the rest of the group, thus empowering them with a sense of creativity and of leadership. There were smiles aplenty, with the concert performance at the end creating a gloriously tribal rhythmic cacophonythe best drum feature of Vossajazz 2017 with respect to Gerald Cleaver
and Stefan Pasborg
that drew prolonged, heartfelt applause. Shifting Grounds: An art installation by Tatiana Stadnichenko
In a slightly quieter corner of the Kulturhus on the basement floor, an installation by Russian artist Tatiana Stadnichenkowhose art inspired Vossajazz' 2017 posterpresented notions of past, present and future simultaneously. Memory, and its fragmented, often random nature, was the central theme of several projections, with slowly rolling images of buildings' faces from some of the countries Stadnichenko has lived and worked in flowing down screens and three-dimensional jig-saw-esque structures with the unstoppable gravity of waterfalls. A soundtracka collaboration with Swedish sound-artist David Heikkinecreated from the frequencies of the images fed into a software program provided sympathetic surround sound, animating both the exhibition space and the space between the ears.
In an age when mass movement through displacement, voluntary migration, work and travel has never been greaterthink of touring musiciansand when the number of visual images we create and are exposed to through screens large and small is increasing all the time, it's hard to discern to what degree our memories are 'true,' linear, and to what degree they are imagined, or implanted after the time in question. Stadnichenko's installation provoked animated, intimate conversation between complete strangers, which surely constituted a success. For those unsure of, or perplexed by the installation's messages or narratives, Stadnichenko had reassuring words. "There are no answers in artonly questions." Silent Film: Kristine Valdresdatter
The idea was a nice one. A showing of acclaimed film director Rasmus Breistein's Kristine Valdresdatter
(1930), the last silent Norwegian silent film, to a live musical score. Unfortunately, technical issues with the projector meant that the film only ran in fits and starts, eventually failing altogether. However, the absence of the film served to turn the focus entirely on the music, which was, as it turned out, an absolute highlight of Vossajazz 2017.
A quartet of Anders Røine (guitar, lap steel guitar vocals, fiddle, jaw harp), Marit Kalberg (vocals, harmonium), Sondre Meisfjord (bass) and Hans Hulbaekmo
(drums, percussion) conjured musically the drama and contrasting emotions of a tale laced with romance, birth out of wedlock, suicide and deception. Bucolic passageswith harmonium, fiddle and Karlberg's vocals creating folksy contourswere intercut with dramatic segments where twanging jaw harp, deep bass ostinatos, grinding electric guitar motifs and percussive spark evoked, at times, Bill Frisell
's pan-national Intercontinentals
band. Jarring electric guitar and Hulbaekmo' mournfully tolling bell effect hinted strongly at the despair inherent in the plot, but the melancholy was trumped by uplifting ensemble passages, where soaring vocals and infectious, African-flavored folk-rock grooves held sway.
Although likely conceived as an uninterrupted soundtrack, there were occasional pauses when Røine updated the audience on the narrative inspiring the music. This, however, did nothing to detract from the music's beauty and power, greeted at the end by a standing ovation. Hopefully, the project will be repeatedwith greater visual successat Vossajazz in the future, and elsewhere. It merits, without a doubt, another go round. Susanna & The Brotherhood of Our Lady
Every year at Vossajazz a major commission work is premiered. This year, Susanna and the Brotherhood of Our Lady presented a seventy-minute performance, , that left no-one indifferent. Susana Wallumrød is a versatile singer who escapes easy categorization. With a discography running from a highly personal arrangement of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" with Morten Qvenild, and Henry Purcell's music with Giovanna Pessi on If Grief Could Wait (ECM, 2011), to the avant-garde collaboration with Jenny Hval that was Meshes of Voices (SusannaSonata, 2014), Susanna is anything but predictable.
Her five-piece band took to the stage in long, black, hooded robes, like members of an esoteric, medieval church order. Lyrically, the compositionssung in Englishcontained religious themes and imagery, although the meaning was not easy to intuit. Static drone, quietly spluttering electronics, washing synthesizer and the leader's spare piano pulses combined to create a melancholy grandeur evocative of a gothic Kate Bush.
Accordion (Ida Løvli Hilde) and electric guitar (Stina Moltu Marklund) were sparingly employed, while electronics (Ina Sagsteun and Natali A. Garner) and ensemble vocal harmonies played a more prominent role. Titles like "Money," "Ship of Fools," "Gluttony and Lust" , "River to Hell" , "There's A Flood Coming, Beware" underlined Biblical themes of greed, folly, sin and damnation. The rather narrow dynamics of the compositions rendered the music a little pedestrian at times, although there was no escaping the somber beauty of Susanna's melodies.
Having worked on this music for over a year it would be reasonable to expect Susanna to record this music. With the perspective that repeat listening to a CD offers, it could yet be hailed as a masterpiece of introspective conceptual music.
Sheila Jordan & Cameron Brown
Sheila Jordan holds a special place in jazz history, though not just because she sang with Charlie Parker. As the progenitor of the bass and jazz vocal duo in the early 1950swith Charles MingusJordan was an innovator from the start. In the late 1970s, she would run what was probably the first solo jazz vocal program in the United States. But as author Ellen Johnson states in Jazz Child: A Portrait of Sheila Jordan (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), Jordan's place in the annals of jazz history is secured partly because "she helped blaze a path for women in music during a supressed era."
That era was the 1940s and 1950s, the era of bebop, the language of which has infused Jordan's singing to this day. Jordan's is a remarkable story and much of her life was revealed during a truly memorable performance with longstanding bass partner Cameron Brown in the Gamlekinonen.
Jordan's embrace of melody, her moulding of a phrase, her embellishment of a single word and her improvisation of lyrics were all in evidence from the opener, "Yesterdays," over Brown's infectious bass ostinato. Jordan serenaded the bass on an original arrangement of "The Very Thought of You," and throughout the performance reiterated her love through her song for the instrument.
The set mightn't have changed much over the years, but Jordan still managed to weave colorful new threads into old material. Her emotive renditions of "Baltimore Oriole"from Portrait of Sheila (Blue Note, 1963)and Oscar Brown Jr.'s "Brother, Where Are you?" were worth the price of admission alone. Jordan's technical finesse was perhaps most evident when she was at her most playful -her ability to inject humour in an improvised phrase, scat or sung aside, was as impressive as it was entertaining.
A novel melodic rearrangement of the standard "It's You or No-one for Me" moved from seamless bebop unison lines between voice and bass to breezy solos. Bebop, blues, Tin Pan Alley and chanting from Jordan's Cherokee roots were all part of the duo's fabric.
"Lady Day, how she touched my heart," Jordan sang in bluesy tribute to Billie Holiday. Jordanwith the elegant Brown the perfect foilis still able, at almost eighty nine years of age, to make a song her own and to touch the hearts of her audiences. Her uplifting performance touched the hearts of the Vossajazz audience, who reciprocated the love with a standing ovation.
Jordan has never been enamoured of the studio. The stage is her thing. Still, it's been a dozen years since she and Brown last recorded a live album. Now's the time.
Seven years and three albums on from its inception, the high-powered quartet Møster! has earned a reputation for its explosive live shows, so expectations were high ahead of a specially expanded format for this Vossajazz commission. To the quintet of saxophonist Kjetil Møster, keyboardist Ståle Storløkken, electric bassist Nikolai Eilertsen, drummer Kenneth Kapstad and guitarist Hans Magnus Ryan were added percussionist Helge Nordbakken and synthesizer player Jorgen Traeen -with more than half the line-up employing electronics to boot.
Striking melodic heads, driving basslines reminiscent of the late Chris Squire, swirling Rhodes and tumultuous drumming were the hallmarks of the collective soundprog-jazz of pomp and virtuosity. Storløkken and Kjetil Møster were the primary soloists, taking it in turns to unleash soaring improvisations over the rhythmic tumult, with Ryan's interventions more measured, more atmospheric, by comparison.
Funky grooves, unrelenting energy, pulsating rhythms and incendiary soloing made for a potent cocktail, but if anything, the additional instrumentation resulted in a little too much going on at once, the effect being that the instruments at times tended to drown each other in the tidal wave of sound. That's not to say that there weren't lyrical passagesone slower, melodic number in particular, led by Møster, employing space to atmospheric effectbut on the whole the dynamics were a little relentless. Møster! is a unique outfit, but this expanded Vossjazz line-up suggested that more was, in fact, less.
Nils Petter Molvaer
Trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer has been a mainstay of the Norwegian jazz scene since his Masqualero days in the 1980s alongside Jon Christensen, Arild Andersen, Jon Balke and Tore Brunborg. As a leader, Molvaer has released a dozen or so albums in the last twenty years, restlessly exploring the nexus between jazz and electronica. Switch (Okeh, 2014) and (Okeh, 2016)one of Molvaer's most band-oriented releases to dateformed the bulk of an arresting performance in the Gamlekinoen.
The ethereal lyricism of the opening number "Kingfish Castle," got the show off to a captivating start, Molvaer's tender trumpet lines combining with Geir Sundstøl shimmering, twin-body lap steel guitar over bassist Joe Berger Myhre and drummer Erland Dahlen's slow-churning grooves. A significant part of the quartet chemistrynow in its third yearlay in the meeting of Molvaer's contemporary jazz balladry and Sundstøl's country/rock roots.
The two combined powerfully on "Jackson Reef," where a meditative spell of meandering melodicism was sharply punctured by Sundstøl's burst of rocking electric guitar and the leader's electronically modified trumpet, which soared wickedly like an EWI. The juxtaposition of mellow and edgy textures, and the almost seamless transition between them, was a defining characteristic of the set.
Special mention must go to lighting designers David Solheim and Tord Knudsen, who bathed the stage in shifting curtains of vibrant colors, adding much to ambiance of a memorable concert.
The final day of Vossajazz 2017 got underway with a solo piano performance by Matthew Shipp in the Ossasalen of the Ole Bull Academy. One of the most innovative and progressive minded of jazz pianists in the past thirty years, Shipp has long been attracted to this format, with nine solo piano releases beginning with Symbol Systems (1996). Shipp is also one of the most prolific of contemporary musicians, with no fewer than seven CDs of improvisation with Ivo Perelman alone, due for release in 2017.
Shipp's improvisation may have started with a clear point of referencethe pianist had struck the first note before sitting down as though by designand ended in similarly concrete fashion with an interpretation of "Patmos" from One (Thirsty Ear, 2005), but the course he pursued in between, for the guts of an hour, was an otherwise unpredictable one. A lot of the narrative unfolded in the piano's mid-range, with forays to the extremities limited to brief snatches. Angular, jagged clusters, punchy rhythmic dynamics and flashes of flinty melodies bled into each otherthe two hands in constant dialog. Avant-garde though the music seemed, jazz traditions lay just below the surface, with the melodies of "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Angel Eyes" and "On Green Dolphin Street" surfacing fleetingly amidst the harmonically dense, complex explorations.
Never opting for the facile, Shipp's bold adventurism was consistently dramatic, though not, perhaps, for the faint hearted.
Doubtless nobody expected to see a trumpet get chucked into a tub of water, but then composer/percussionist Terje Isungset is nothing if not unorthodox, having established a reputation as one of the world's most creative percussionists/sound artists through his music fashioned from ice, glass, wood and slate. This commissioned work for Vossajazz saw Isungset leading a band of some of Norway's most celebrated musiciansleaders all in their own right. The work, Sildrande [Drizzling], was inspired by water, and although water featured as a musical tool, Isungset's suite for trumpet, saxophone, vocals, electronics, Hardanger fiddles and piano was far greater in scope, with an almost orchestral breadth of ambition.
The gently seductive, melodic opening was built around Morten Qvenild's piano, Arve Henriksen's trumpet, Mats Eilertsen's spare bass, Sissel Vera Pettersen's wordless vocal and Isungset's subtle percussive coloring. The atmosphere changed completelya recurring aspect of the workwith a hushed percussive segment, where Isungset drew subtle sounds from the large wood and slate chimes hanging from his kit. Henriksen, submerging the bell of his trumpet in a plastic cylinder full of water, conjured unusual, strangled textures that prompted an abstract ensemble passage of restless character. Gradually, fiddlers Nils Okland and Mats Eden, with Henriksen in tandem, steered the music into hauntingly ethereal territory, underpinned by washing electronic drone and Isungset's percussive finesse.
An extended percussive interlude, deftly understated, gave way to the uplifting ensemble voice, from which Henriksen briefly took solo flight. Audience applause marked the natural seams in a multi-part suite that flowed back and forth between lyrical passages of chamber intimacy and quasi-symphonic grandeur. Isungset's frenzied jaw-harp strumming and Qvenild's circling piano motif ushered in a stirring ten-minute segment with saxophone and trumpet locked in melodic unison over a cantering rhythm. Petterson and Henriksen soon slipped the leash, stretching out as the rhythms intensified.
Ambient textures gradually took over, with fiddles rising periodically above electronic drone. The sound of trickling water, dreamy wordless vocal and trumpet fusion, and a low, throbbing pulse combined in a powerfully meditative finale of stark beauty.
A prolonged standing ovation greeted Isungset and his marvellous musical collaborators in recognition of what was arguably the high point of Vossjazz 2017. Hopefully the stunning work that was Sildrande will find its way onto CD, where it can find the wider audience it merits.
Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet
There's always a sense of expectation surrounding a concert by veteran Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko He might have looked a little frail, sitting for the whole performance on a high chair, but the fire and smouldering passion that has burned in him since the mid-1960s was still evident in this early afternoon concert.
Stańko was showcasing music from his twelfth release for ECM, December Avenue (2017), with the latest incarnation of his New York ensemble. David Virelles was unavailable for this European tour, so the piano stool was filled by Alexi Tuomarila, who of course knows Stańko well, having recorded and toured Dark Eyes (ECM, 2009) with the trumpeter. With Reuben Rogers replacing Thomas Morgan, it meant that Gerald Cleaver was the only side-musican remaining from the Wislawa (ECM, 2013) New York Quartet.
The set began with the boppish "December Avenue," Stańko's lean phrasing punctuated by explosive trills, his spaces inviting more expansive replies, first from Tuomarila, alternating between free-flowing lines and chordal progressions, then Rogers, who made his bass strings sing over Cleaver's brushes encouragement. Collective fire gave way to the dark-hued, smouldering balladry that's second nature to Stańko. Few can match the veteran trumpeter's handling of a ballad, and although the set, like the current album, was tipped in favour of slower numbers, fiery interjections such as "Yankiels Lid," with Stańko leading from the front, provided collective thrills aplenty. It took a drum solo, however, for Cleaver to really show his chops, a reflection perhaps on the through-composed weight of Stańko's current music. The aching melancholy of "Ballad for Bruno Schultz" closed the set on an introspective note. A short but sweet set from the Polish maestro of dusky balladry and post-bop tension.
Benedicte Maurseth & Jasser Haj Yiuseff
Norway's rich folk traditions have long held an important place in Vossajazz's program, fittingly so, given that the town is home to the Ole Bull Academy, the country's foremost centre of folk music studies, and through whose doors the majority of musicians in Norway's conservatoires pass at some point, for sojourns of varying length. Understanding the roots of Norwegian folk music also sheds light on so much of the contemporary jazz/experimental music being made in Norway, which often draws from folkloric traditions much older than jazz.
This year's concert in the Vanhskyrkja, Voss's thirteenth century church, featured one of Norway's most noted Hardanger fiddlers, Benedicte Maurseth, and Tunisian viola D'Amore player Jasser Haj Youssef. The duo first came together at a festival in Sardinia in 2014, where an improvised concert paved the way for an ongoing collaboration. To a packed church, the duo presented Norwegian folk tunes and Maurseth's own compositions, with the lines between seventeenth century and twenty first century tunes deliciously blurred.
Maurseth's haunting vocal incantation over a circling fiddle motif, tinged with Yousef's gently keening Oriental colors, made for a striking opening. Bucolic meditations with slow but steady heartbeats, unhurried improvisations on melodies of simple beauty, haunting laments and plaintive tone poems followed. A surprise came with Maurseth's heartfelt rendition of Scottish poet/songwriter Ivor Cutler's "Women of the World Take Over," Youssef's spare, plucked viola a constant rhythmic companion to Maurseth's lyrical vocal and fiddle lines. The finale saw fiddle and viola entwine in a hypnotic, country-ish waltz that gathered impetus down the home straight, drawing a line under what had been a quietly riveting journey.
Solveig Slettahjell, Knut Reiersrud, In The Country
The closing concert of Vossajazz 2017 saw a quintet featuring singer Solveig Slettahjell, veteran blues-rock guitarist Knut Reiersrud and contemporary jazz trio In The Country reprise the blues and gospel-tinged tunes from Trails of Souls
(ACT Music, 2015), before an appreciative audience in the Vossasalen.
Taking well known tunes and slowing them down was the modus operandi, an approach Slettahjell has taken since the early 2000s with her aptly named Slow Motion bands on albums like Good Rain
(Curling Legs, 2006) and
(Universal Music Norway, 2010).
The opener, James Anderson's "Borrowed Time," set the tone for much of the set, Slettahjell guiding this slow burner with gospel and soul gravitas in equal measure, while's tasteful solo was carved from the same idioms. The guitarist doubled on harmonica on a rather bland version of Bill Wither's "Grandma's Hands," drummer Pal Hausken and bassist Roger Arntzen keeping simple time, while leaving embellishments to pianist/keyboardist Morten Qvenild. Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street" was a song of two halves, Slettahjell low-key, ghostly vocal giving way to more jazz-centric collective improvisation, led by Qvenild. A haunting vocal-guitar duet of the early twentieth century gospel tune "His Eye Is on the Sparrow"made famous by Mahalia Jackson
bled into a stirring arrangement of the traditional gospel-blues "Soul of a Man."
The Clark Sisters "Is My Living in Vain?" swept back and forth between hushed gospel and raw blues, with Reiersrud's searing, gutsy solo inspiring Qvenild and Slettahjell in turn. Other highlights included jazz pianist Richard M. Jones' "Trouble in Mind," with In The County's magic completely re-imagining this 1920s song in epic mode, and an equally no-holds barred version of Blind Willie Johnson
's "Nobody's Fault But Mine," with Reiersrud's harmonica to the fore. The first encore served up Reiersrud's anthemic "Holy Joe," while "I Don't Feel Noways Tired" saw the impressive Slettahjell leading the chorus on another moving gospel blues, capping a compelling concert that earned a merited standing ovation. Wrap Up
Vossajazz 2017 will be remembered for a diverse and adventurous program. Vintage performances from some of jazz' elder statesmen and women went hand in hand with more experimental music. Music that's risk-taking today, however, becomes tomorrow's mainstreamjust think Sheila Jordan birthing the jazz vocal and double bass duo in the early 1950sand much of the more outré music presented at Vossajazz will likely lose its edge with the hindsight that the future brings. It's not always the music that changes radically so much as the technology. The lighting and sound engineers turned many of the performances into audio-visual works of artthose of Karin Krog & John Surman, Susanna, and Nils Petter Molvaer in particular were transformed into something more than the music. It will be fascinating to see the degree to which technologies impact the music in years to come.
Yet for all the reverb, fuzz, echo, layering, delay and computerized effects on display, there was still nothing quite like the unadorned sound of a trumpet, the natural communion of voice and double bass, nature-derived percussive sonorities, or the gentle echo of Hardanger fiddle and viola D'amore resonating in an old church.
The inclusion of children, youth, the elderly and the mentally disabled at Vossajazz, often as participants in the music-making, could perhaps serve as a model to many other festivals wishing to broaden the music's appeal/make their festivals more socially relevant.
The people of Voss and Hordaland county can be rightly proud of Vossajazz, which, after forty four editions, has done much to put Voss on the international map as a town of culture, social inclusion, entertainment and hospitality. What more can a festival aspire to?
Photos: Courtesy of Runhild Heggem, Odin Dronen, Amalie Johannssen, Adne Dyrnesli, Lars Finborud, Vossjazz