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Live Reviews

Trondheim Jazz Festival: May 9-13, 2012

Trondheim Jazz Festival: May 9-13, 2012
By Published: May 28, 2012
Trondheim Jazz Festival
Trondheim, Norway
May 9-13, 2012
Being Norway's third largest city, next to Oslo and Bergen, means something completely different to being the third largest city in Canada or the United States. With more than 25,000 students in a city of approximately 160,000 people, it's not unlike (albeit a little larger than) Kingston, Canada, another university town whose size places it, however, as that country's 58th largest.

But there's more to Trondheim than its Norwegian ranking and paradoxically diminutive size. Traveling to Norway every year since 2006, it's become evident that small town Norway means something else entirely. At the southern tip of the country in Kristiansand, home of the annual Punkt Festival, a town of 75,000 means not just an art gallery (Sorlandet) and a conservatory, but a new state of the art concert house in the recently opened Kilden, housing the Agder Regional Theatre, Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra and Opera Sør. Compare this to most North American towns that size, which would be lucky to have a few cinemas, and Norway's commitment to supporting culture around the country becomes crystal clear.

Like Kristiansand, Trondheim's support for the arts is certain—perhaps even more so. Its NTNU-Trondheim—the Norwegian University of Science and Technology—houses a Department of Music that consolidates its former Department of Musicology and the renowned Trondheim Conservatory of Music, a school that has seen a number of now well-known artists pass through its doors, including trumpeters Mathias Eick
Mathias Eick
Mathias Eick
b.1979
trumpet
and Arve Henriksen
Arve Henriksen
Arve Henriksen
b.1968
trumpet
, bassist Mats Eiltertsen, drummer Thomas Stronen and saxophonists Hakon Kornstad
Hakon Kornstad
Hakon Kornstad
b.1977
saxophone
and Trygve Seim
Trygve Seim
Trygve Seim

saxophone
, and continues to funnel creative young artists into the vibrant Norwegian scene like bassist Ole Morten Vågan, violinist Ola Kvernberg
Ola Kvernberg
Ola Kvernberg
b.1981
violin
and saxophonist Kjetil Møster.

With such a remarkable focal point for music, it's perhaps surprising that the town's annual jazz festival has experienced something of a checkered past. An initial kick at the can ultimately failed, until the mid-1990s when now-festival director and drummer Ernst Wiggo Sandbakk, along with two other musician friends, revived the festival, initially as a chance to create a one-night opportunity for each to play with their own groups.

Nearly twenty years later, Trondheim Jazz Festival has expanded to five days and, for the first time in 2012, unveiled a daytime event called The Jazz Summit, which invited speakers from around the world to come and discuss a variety of topics, ranging from the state of jazz and jazz education to career management and the road ahead. Pianist Bugge Wesseltoft
Bugge Wesseltoft
Bugge Wesseltoft
b.1964
piano
, saxophonist Petter Wettre and the surprisingly successful vocal/tuba/drums trio PELbO spoke about their own place in the music industry, while saxophonist Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
b.1964
sax, tenor
and pianist/horn player Django Bates
Django Bates
Django Bates
b.1960
piano
spoke, along with Trondheim Conservatory's Erling Aksdal, on the challenges of engendering not just technical excellence but creativity in the classroom. Stuart Nicholson spoke on the vast experiences that ultimately led to his publication of the popular book, Is Jazz Dead (Or Has It Moved to A New Address) (Routledge, 2005), while Peter John Martin challenged some of Nicholson's assertions—or, at least, how they have been perceived and interpreted.



While attendance of The Jazz Summit was, perhaps, smaller than anticipated/hoped, it was successful enough for Sandbakk and Trondheim Jazz Festival programmer, Petter Vågan, to already be talking about round two in 2014, though a final panel discussion that, in addition to some of the speakers already mentioned also included Italian journalist Francesco Martinelli and Fiona Talkington (host of the successful BBC Radio program Late Junction), revealed a couple of noticeable omissions in the 2012 program. First, with the average age of the speakers well over 50—and despite it being clear that they were clearly connected to the scene as it is today, not some past context for which they continue to pine—the summit could have used greater representation from the age group about whom most are concerned, when discussions about the future of jazz arise. True, the majority of the four showcases that opened each morning and afternoon of the two-day event—the free improvising trio Moskus, solo electric bassist Mattis Kleppen, guitarist Nine Kristine Linge and her Sommerfuglfisk trio, and PELbO, which put on the most immediately captivating performance—consisted of youthful players. But if the intended audience for The Jazz Summit is to glean practical advice, more direct participation by younger people, in the trenches, would be a good thing.

The other noticeable gap, raised by Talkington, was the absence of women in the program. With singer Eldbørg Raknes recently named Associate Professor at NTNU, and with the Norwegian scene's strong representation, from intrepid experimental singer Sidsel Endresen
Sidsel Endresen
Sidsel Endresen

vocalist
to saxophonist Froy Aagre
Froy Aagre
Froy Aagre
b.1977
sax, soprano
and trumpeter Gunhild Seim
Gunhild Seim

trumpet
, there's far from equal representation across the genders, but there's certainly more than sufficient to suggest participation in a summit such as this.

Still, the four showcases, eleven speakers and final panel discussion revealed that while there will always be work to do, there's little reason to worry about there being a future for jazz, as long as it continues to be defined by inclusion rather than exclusion, and the cultural cross-pollination that has turned it from an art form created in America to one now owned by the entire world.

While it's not uncommon, these days, to actually find an almost knee-jerk reaction at some European festivals when it comes to programming American content, given the difficulty artists from abroad have obtaining work visas to enter the United State, the festival's first evening suggested it harbors no such ill will, with singer Stacey Kent
Stacey Kent
Stacey Kent
b.1968
vocalist
and young trumpet phenom Ambrose Akinmusire
Ambrose Akinmusire
Ambrose Akinmusire
b.1982
trumpet
delivering back-to-back performances at Dokkhuset and Blæst, respectively.

Chapter Index
May 9: Stacey Kent

May 9: Ambrose Akinmusire

May 10: Splashgirl

May 10: Allan Holdsworth / Jimmy Halip / Virgil Donati

May 11: Food, feat. Prakash Sontakke and Petter Vågan

May 11: Bugge Wesseltoft

May 12: The New Songs

May 12: Jazz Students Go Difference


May 9: Stacey Kent

Kent first came to attention in 1997 with Close Your Eyes (Candid), but her career took a decided leap when she signed with Blue Note in 2007 for Breakfast on the Morning Tram (2007) and, in particular, a 2010 all-French follow-up, Raconte Moi (2010), an album that reflected the New York-born, now England-resident's broader concerns, both artistically and linguistically (she has a Masters degree in Comparative Literature, after studying French, Italian and German).



While Norwegian isn't a language in Kent's arsenal, she still managed a multilingual set, singing in English, French and, for a mid-set shift, a taste of Brazil, with the singer sitting down and contributing some nylon-string guitar accompaniment to a quartet that, in addition to husband/musical director/saxophonist Jim Tomlinson
Jim Tomlinson
Jim Tomlinson
b.1966
, also included fellow Englishmen Graham Harvey (piano), Jeremy Brown (bass) and Matt Skelton (drums). Kent and her group took full advantage of a relatively rare opportunity to play in the more intimate, club-like surroundings of a venue like Dokkhuset, the singer amiably engaging her audience with plenty of between-song stories to tell throughout a set culled from recent albums, including the soon-to-be-released Dreamer (Blue Note, 2012), her first-ever live recording.

May 9: Ambrose Akinmusire

Across the way from Dokkhuset and situated just feet from the Nidelva River that snakes through the town and empties into the Trondheimsfjord—Norway's third-longest fjord at 130 km in length and reaching a depth, in parts, of over 600 meters—the upstairs Blæst is normally not a jazz venue, instead largely favoring alternative rock, metal, funk bands and more. Still, it was a suitable venue for the Trondheim Jazz Festival, capable of squeezing a couple of hundred people in on a standing room basis, though more often than not the music brought to the venue was not the "get up and dance" kind, even of a jazzier variety. But like Dokkhuset, it's a fine venue, with a good sound system and, for the most part, good sight lines.

Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire's career has been on a rapid upward trajectory, first, as a sideman for people like keyboardist Alan Pasqua
Alan Pasqua
Alan Pasqua

piano
—whose post-Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
fusion of The Antisocial Club (Cryptogrammophone, 2007) was a surprise hit and one of the best releases of 2007, in no small part due to Akinmusire's stunning performance—and more recently for his own recordings, like his 2011 Blue Note debut (and sophomore disc as a leader), When The Heart Emerges Glistening.



Still on the shy side of 30 and recording for a high profile label like Blue Note might suggest an artist attempting to reach a large audience with easily accessible music. Akinmusire made clear, however, as he charged out of the gate with a powerful modal opener driven hard by bassist Harish Raghavan and powerhouse drummer Justin Brown (who both play on When The Heart), that it was his goal to challenge his audience as much as himself. Introducing the band, which also included Sam Harris
Sam Harris
Sam Harris
b.1986
piano
—a pianist who was not on Akinmusire's recording but is clearly someone to watch—Akinmusire thanked the crowd for listening, suggesting that, perhaps, he's encountering some difficulties from those looking for an easier-on-the-ears experience.

An experience that anyone who has heard When The Heart Emerges Glistening knows is simply not going to happen. That's not to suggest Akinmusire can't be lyrical or approachable, with a mid-set number that began a capella proving the trumpeter's conception may be unorthodox, but that his capabilities, both technical and musical, are broad enough to comfortably traverse any terrain. Still, for the most part, with a combination of group interplay working on the subtlest of levels at one moment, a stunning display of collective firepower the next, it's clear that Akinmusire has no interest in compromise. Whether blowing hot liquid lines—suggesting a signature of swoops and swirls as personal to the young trumpeter as fellow horn man Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler
b.1930
trumpet
's characteristic leaps into the stratosphere—or delivering through-composed miniatures with interpretive aplomb, Akinmusire trumped his admittedly excellent studio recording, proving he's even more impressive live than on record, with a group that's evolving so quickly it needs to be documented. What Akinmusire has in mind for his next record is unknown, but he could do a lot worse than consider a live recording with this quartet—or, better yet, his quintet, when he's able to add incendiary saxophonist Walter Smith III
Walter Smith III
Walter Smith III
b.1980
sax, tenor
to the date.

May 10: Splashgirl

Since first emerging in 2008 with the one-two punch of a sublime performance at the Punkt Festival and the release of its 2007 debut, Doors. Keys. (AIM, 2008), Norway's Splashgirl
Splashgirl
Splashgirl

piano
has gone from strength to strength, honing an approach to compositional development and interpretive in-the-moment improvisation that, for players this young, is uncharacteristically patient. Young they may be (the oldest member has just turned 30 in 2012), but pianist Andreas Stensland Løwe, bassist Jo Berger Myhre and drummer Andreas Lønmo Knudsrød are all busy on the Norwegian scene in a variety of projects, though it certainly appears as though Splashgirl is a significant priority to all of them. The trio has released two additional records in the ensuing years—2009's Arbor and 2011's Pressure, both on the emergent Hubro label—and is in the process of trying to put together a first-ever North American tour.



Until then, North American audiences must live vicariously through Splashgirl's recordings or, if chance will have it, with the occasional opportunity to experience the trio live somewhere in Europe. Pulling off the kind of music Splashgirl makes at four in the afternoon is no mean feat: this is music that, slow, dark, brooding and subtle, has more of a late-night vibe to it, but the group managed to turn day into night at Dokkhuset, for its 70-minute set.

While improvisation is part of what Splashgirl does, its recent music is largely through-composed, though the manner in which it develops speaks to a different kind of spontaneity; one where the roadmap is lain out, to be sure, but the exact manner in which the trio travels from point A to point B changes from performance to performance. While its recordings have invariably included both guests and more extensive instrumentation from Splashgirl—with Løwe playing guitars and zithers, Myhre augmenting his double bass with kantele and Knudsrød including vibraphone and zither—live, Spashgirl strips down to its fundamentals: piano, bass and drums, with Løwe adding only some additional electronics and the occasional synth.

Drones are often a foundation to Splashgirl's music, and the set opener began with a quiet yet gut-rumbling one, over which Løwe patiently layered a series of gradually evolving lines. While the pieces weren't announced, it was clear that much of the performance was taken from Pressure, including "Ravine," which sounded very much how minimalist composer Philip Glass
Philip Glass
Philip Glass
b.1937
composer/conductor
might write, were he to score for a piano trio, with Myhre's rapid bowing creating a counterpoint to Løwe's pulse-driven chords and Knudsrød's suggestive percussion work.

Splashgirl performances are less about seeing and more about feeling, with moments of beauty emerging like the sun through the clouds. Splashgirl's influences are many, from post-rock groups like Sigur Rós and free improvisers like Paul Bley
Paul Bley
Paul Bley
b.1932
piano
to the Norwegian chamber jazz of Trygve Seim
Trygve Seim
Trygve Seim

saxophone
and classical composers like Erik Satie and Morton Feldman. But five years on, Splashgirl continues to hone a personal sound, one that relies on spontaneity, but always in service of music whose structure may unfold at an almost impossibly unhurried pace that demands an attention and commitment paradoxical to our sound-byte world, but which always pays greater dividends for it.

May 10: Allan Holdsworth / Jimmy Haslip / Virgil Donati

While he's been hitting the road with increasing regularity in recent years, guitarist Allan Holdsworth
Allan Holdsworth
Allan Holdsworth
b.1948
guitar
hasn't always done himself the greatest favors. Truly one of the most innovative guitarists of the past four decades, beginning in his native England with groups like trumpeter Ian Carr
Ian Carr
Ian Carr
1933 - 2009
trumpet
's Nucleus and Soft Machine
Soft Machine
Soft Machine

band/orchestra
, but crossing to the United States in the mid-1970s for work with drummer Tony Williams
Tony Williams
Tony Williams
1945 - 1997
drums
' New Lifetime, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty
Jean-Luc Ponty
Jean-Luc Ponty
b.1942
violin
and others, his unique legato approach and almost impenetrable guitar voicings have influenced generations of guitarists—many of whom, like Eddie Van Halen, have achieved greater fame and fortune. Holdsworth has long been his own worst enemy, a painfully self-critical player who now takes so long to record and release a record that his studio follow-up to 2000's superb The Sixteen Men of Tain (Globe) has yet to be completed. Thankfully, a live set from a tour with New Lifetime keyboardist Alan Pasqua
Alan Pasqua
Alan Pasqua

piano
, bassist Jimmy Haslip
Jimmy Haslip
Jimmy Haslip
b.1951
bass, electric
and Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
1940 - 1993
guitar, electric
alum drummer Chad WackermanBlues for Tony (Moonjune, 2009)—and recent reissues of the guitarist's Hard Hat Area (1993) and the more closely jazz-centered None Too Soon (1996, both reissued by MoonJune) have kept his name alive.



But while live has always been the place to witness Holdsworth at his best—the guitarist's 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival trio show with Wackerman and bassist Jimmy Johnson and his subsequent visit to Gatineau, Canada with Johnson and drummer Gary Husband
Gary Husband
Gary Husband
b.1960
drums
being two fine examples—his innate self-criticism has always remained a constant, so much so that the guitarist has been known to introduce a song by saying, "hopefully we won't fuck this one up as much as we did the last one." Holdsworth's recent touring with Haslip and drummer Virgil Donati has, however, seen something new: an Allan Holdsworth who is clearly enjoying himself more than he has in years. A recent video stream from his Iridium performance in New York City revealed a guitarist who was actually smiling, and there were plenty of smiles going around during his Trondheim Jazz Festival show, too.

Holdsworth's set list hasn't changed much—with plenty of the usual suspects including his New Lifetime hit, "Fred," an even more incendiary "Protocosmos" and "Water on the Brain, Pt. 2," the latter a fiery solo feature for Haslip—but clearly both the bassist and, in particular, the unfettered, equally virtuosic and effervescent Donati are pushing the guitarist into nuclear territory he's not seen in decades. His silky tone and legato approach—which largely eliminates all attack from his instrument—has, in recent years, been honed to the extent that he'd lost some of his edge, but not with this trio. Blinding lines, with cascading runs navigating complex changes with a new kind of fire announced a renewed Holdsworth at Dokkhuset. He's always taken chances in performance, but he appeared more at peace with the idea that those very risks might not always yield perfect results.

Haslip—on a one-year hiatus from his regular group, Yellowjackets
Yellowjackets
Yellowjackets

band/orchestra
—is a fitting foil for Holdsworth, and brings a different kind of virtuosity to the table than Jimmy Johnson (who's no slouch either). But the combination of Haslip and Donati seems to be the perfect combination for Holdsworth 2012, a guitarist whose unmistakable voice and position as a guitarist's guitarist should have already made him a bigger name on the popular front. Hopefully this renewed, reinvigorated and clearly happy Holdsworth will be able to finish up the album he's been working on for so long, and continue building the momentum being generated by this high octane fusion trio.

May 11: Food, feat. Prakash Sontakke and Petter Vågan

For a group that ultimately found itself whittled down to a duo, the Anglo/Norwegian collaboration Food has managed to live on well past any suspected "best buy" date. While saxophonist Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
b.1964
sax, tenor
and drummer Thomas Stronen could have easily functioned as a duo after the departure of trumpeter Arve Henriksen
Arve Henriksen
Arve Henriksen
b.1968
trumpet
and bassist Mats Eilertsen
Mats Eilertsen
Mats Eilertsen
b.1975
bass
—and did so, in fact, with their performance at the 2006 Punkt Festival—the group has subsequently evolved into something of an experimental improvising collective, where Strønen and Ballamy call upon friends old and new for performances and recordings. Recent years have seen the intrepid duo—whose incorporation of electronics into the mix is so organic as to seem as natural an extension of their music-making as their irrefutable acumen on their more conventional acoustic instruments—tour and record with everyone from pianist Maria Kannegaard and trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer
Nils Petter Molvaer
Nils Petter Molvaer
b.1960
trumpet
to guitarists Eivind Aarset
Eivind Aarset
Eivind Aarset

guitar
and Christian Fennesz.

Food's Trondheim performance at Blæst continued a collaboration begun earlier in the month in Oslo as part of the Conexions series, curated by BBC Radio's Fiona Talkington. Indian lap steel guitarist/vocalist Prakash Sontakke was back from the group's show at Victoria, but replacing the unavailable Aarset was guitarist (and Trondheim Jazz Festival programmer) Petter Vågan. Vågan may be a new name to many, but much like his brother, bassist Ole Morten Vågan (of Mellow Motif
Mellow Motif
Mellow Motif
b.1985
vocalist
, The Deciders and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra
b.2000
band/orchestra
), Vågan is a hardworking participant in half a dozen bands, ranging from Juxtaposed and Scent of Soil, with well-known saxophonist Tore Brunborg
Tore Brunborg
Tore Brunborg
b.1960
saxophone
, to Marvel Machine, whose debut CD is also the first release from Vågan's new label, Gigafon. Sontakke will also be a name new to most, but not for long as he'll be on Food's forthcoming ECM recording, due out later this year.



Together, Ballamy, Strønen, Sontakke and Vågan delivered an hour-long set that ebbed and flowed as ideas moved liberally around the stage. Sontakke began alone, first singing but gradually introducing his lap steel to create a warm wash that slowly expanded with the injection of Ballamy's softly lyrical yet still somewhat skewed lines, the saxophonist moving from tenor to soprano to what may have been an EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument). Vågan's playing was largely textural, though he occasionally broke through with more jagged lines as the dynamics built to one of a number of false climaxes that only led to new ideas, new paths and new developments.

As impressive as the group was collectively, Strønen remained a visual lightning rod amidst Food's cushioned ambience. While not averse to creating complex pulses and intensely building cacophonies when the music demanded, he was as much a textural player who used his kit from a more orchestral perspective. His use of electronics was particularly impressive for his ability to sample his acoustic kit, process and feed it back through his gear at near-light speed—his fingers moving around the knobs, buttons and pads with the same dexterity and accuracy that his sticks did on his skins and cymbals.

A mélange of electro-acoustics, Food's Blæst performance was one of the festival's clear highlights; the only shame being its relatively sparse attendance, though that just meant those who were there were witness to something particularly special; a context that may well be repeated again, but never sounding quite like it did at Blæst.

May 11: Bugge Wesseltoft

Not unlike the members of Food, for the past few years, pianist, New Conceptions of Jazz creator and Jazzland label head Bugge Wesseltoft
Bugge Wesseltoft
Bugge Wesseltoft
b.1964
piano
has been exploring the nexus where technology and conventional instrumentation meet but, unlike his Ango/Norwegian cohorts, in the context of solo performance. Albums like Playing (Jazzland, 2009) and IM (Jazzland, 2007), and performances including Punkt in 2006 , Montreal in 2007 and Huagesand in 2008 found Wesseltoft seamlessly integrating solo piano improvisation—informed, to some extent, by Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
but with a sparer, more spacious approach—with a similarly intuitive knowledge of synths and samplers allowing him to create more expansive soundworlds filled with rhythm, harmony and unequivocal lyricism.



Wesseltoft's most recent release, Songs (Jazzland, 2012), however, trims out all the gear and places Wesseltoft alone, with nothing more than a grand piano. A self-educated musician who, nevertheless, clearly understands the roots of the jazz tradition—as his 2008 performance at Mai Jazz, with bassist Arild Andersen
Arild Andersen
Arild Andersen
b.1945
bass, acoustic
clearly demonstrated, as the pianist and bassist took Norwegian and Swedish traditionalism into burning modal territory—for Songs, Wesseltoft turns away from free improvisation and original composition to interpret a number of well-known jazz standards and Great American Songbook chestnuts. If this is Wesseltoft's "Standards" record, however, it's one that's no less personal than IM or, for that matter, the music contained on his 2008 New Conceptions of Jazz Box (Jazzland). Others might choose to use these familiar songs as the foundation for virtuosity or radical rework; Wesseltoft, instead, clearly understands the meaning of each of these songs, and if his interpretation leans towards the impressionistic, the gentle and the balladic, then that's clearly of design and intent.

For his Trondheim Jazz Festival date, Wesseltoft was given the ideal venue: Vår Frue Kirke. An old church ideal for a solo piano performance, while there was a PA system being used, the sound engineer maximized the beautiful natural acoustics of the room, simply using his system to help spread the sound throughout the large cathedral. Wesseltoft performed a number of pieces from Songs, most notably a version of Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini
b.1924
piano
's well-worn classic, "Moon River," here transformed into a gentle tone poem where the familiar melody was never far from the surface, even as Wesseltoft stretched the song out with a rubato reading that never missed its mark. "How High The Moon" was equally moving, Wesseltoft's perfect instincts combining sheer melodism with occasional blue tinges that demonstrated near-flawless instincts and an ability to hear opportunity in the subtlest of nuances, the most delicate of ideas.

Wesseltoft also turned the Miles Davis /Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
jazz standard, "Nardis"—a title not on Songs—into a ruminative high point in a set that truly was one long high point, from start to finish. If Erik Satie were a jazz man, and one who interpreted the jazz canon, he might sound something like Wesseltoft and his performance of music from Songs; imbued with an unmistakable command of the jazz vernacular, Wesseltoft's Norwegian upbringing has brought an entirely different perspective to this music, which, along with Food, stands as one of the 2012 Tronheim Jazz Festival's most memorable shows.

May 12: The New Songs

The following afternoon, another performance at Vår Frue Kirke took advantage of the room's wonderful acoustics for a show that was, in many ways, diametrically opposed to Wesseltoft's lyrical and eminently accessible set from the night before. The New Songs is a new multi-national collaboration between singer Sofia Jernberg and guitarist David Stackenäs (both from Sweden), French pianist Eva Risser and Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr. Myhr and Stackenäs first met at the 2009 Punkt Festival, where they did not actually play together but shared a double bill: Myhr in duo with French guitarist Sébastien Roux; and Stackenäs as a member of Labfield, with Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach. Clearly, however, the two shared many things in common, most notably a penchant for oblique strategies and unorthodox means.



While use of the term "songs" for music such as this might seem paradoxical, the six songs on A Nest at the Junction of Paths (Umlaut, 2012)—compositional duties split evenly between Risser and Jerberg—are, indeed, songs, albeit with odd titles like "I'm a Pine Tree Prickle," "A White Square" and "Reality Had Little Weight." Jernberg seemed to be classically trained, possessing a wide range and the ability to navigate odd intervallic leaps. While not at all like German singer Dagmar Krause, of Henry Cow and Art Bears fame, both Jerberg and Risser's music seemed to occupy a place in relative proximity to these two influential and collaborative 1970s/'80s groups belonging to multi-instrumentalist Fred Frith
Fred Frith
Fred Frith
b.1949
guitar
and percussionist Chris Cutler, with similar New Music proclivities and room for open-ended improvisation. But, unlike those bands, without a rhythm section of any kind, The New Songs' music tended to be even more ethereal, with Stackenäs' use of ebows on his acoustic guitar creating long, droning tonalities as a foundation for Myhr's jagged angularities, delicate wind chimes and zither, and Risser's similarly abstruse and prepared approach.

There was plenty of eye contact throughout the set, as the various group members provided visual cues to navigate a set of music that, in its largely soft textures and rounded surfaces, was strangely compelling despite its challenging compositional constructs. Not for the faint-at-heart, perhaps; but for songs on the avant side of the equation, certainly easier to approach.

May 12: Jazz Students Go Difference

One of the challenges of contemporary jazz festivals is to support its locals. Some pay this concept lip service, providing evidence that they do, indeed, give work to local musicians, but a closer look revealing that the venues in which they are booked, often far from the main stages, do little to expose these players to the festival's broader and sometimes international audience.



Not so for the Trondheim Jazz Festival; amidst the international acts, the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra delivered a full version of the Sidewalk Comedy that they had performed, in abbreviated form (and without all the costumed theatrics), in Bremen, Germany at Jazzahead! earlier this year, while groups like Moskus and Torstein Lavik Larsen Ekspress were given prime real estate at the Dokkhuset restaurant. But it was one of the second-to-last evening's performances that demonstrated both the festival's commitment to up-and-coming musicians and a future for jazz that, in Trondheim at least, is in no threat of extinction.

Jazz Students Go Difference brought together a choice selection of students from NTNU for a week of rehearsals with trombonist Erik Johannessen—an NTNU alum now living in Oslo and performing with groups including Jaga Jazzist
Jaga Jazzist
Jaga Jazzist

band/orchestra
and rising star, singer/songwriter Susanne Sundfor, and who has just released his first album as a leader, Inkblots (2012), on Petter Vågan's Gigafon label. Johannessen's task? To create contemporary arrangements of music by 1960s/70s Norwegian pop group Difference—unknown beyond its country's borders, but a popular group back in the day, with a number of hits that included both original songs and its own versions of music by Procol Harum, The Beatles
The Beatles
The Beatles

band/orchestra
, The Moody Blues and others.

At one of the first rehearsals on Wednesday, May 9, it was clear that these were students well on their way to finding their own voices, made all the clearer just three days later at the festival's final show at Dokkhuset. Johannessen was clearly an ideal choice to bring this group of musicians to performance level in short order, and with a new book of songs. Everyone received a chance to shine, with early marks going to guitarist Rune Nielsen, whose solo during the set-opener set a high bar for the rest of his band mates.

And meet it they did. From saxophonists Martin Myhre Olsen (alto) and Olav Slagsvold (tenor), to trumpeter Jakob Eri Myhre and tubaist Peder Simonsen, the horn section proved capable of punchy funk and lusher landscapes. Violinist Adrian Løseth Waade drew particular applause for his impressive mid-set solo on "Lady Universe," while singer Kari Eskild Havenstrøm suggested that, despite having a smaller role in this largely instrumental performance, she was capable of making every moment she had count, with a voice that was sweet without being saccharine. Pianist Kjetil André Mulelid, drummer Tord Vangen and bassist Elise Bergman stoked the group's engine room, with Vangen particularly impressive throughout; but when Bergman finally got a chance to solo on the closing tune of the set, she proved herself every bit as capable as those around her.



It's no small challenge to adapt music that, decades ago, was a part of Norwegian musical history, and which was clearly known to many of those in attendance, but Johannessen's arrangements managed to respect the writing while bringing it into the 21st century for a group of young musicians—many of whom will, no doubt, be heard from in the future. While the final day of the Trondheim Jazz Festival was to feature Bernhoft—a performer whose star is on a serious ascendancy not just in Norway, but increasingly around the rest of Europe—ending this year's coverage with Jazz Students Go Difference was, in many ways, the perfect conclusion to a festival whose 2012 edition, both through its concerts and its first Jazz Summit, looked to address many of the challenges facing jazz today, and did so with resounding success.

Photo Credit

All Photos: John Kelman


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