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.