Norwegian Road Trip, Part 2: Kongsberg Jazz, July 9-10, 2010
While lesser-known outside Scandinavia, Jan Erik Vold is a poet who has forged his own unique place in jazz by collaborating with artists including Jan Garbarek, Arild Andersen, Bobo Stenson, Jon Christensen and Chet Baker. A series of recordings made with his Scandinavian friends in the 1970s has recently been released by Plastic Strip as VokalThe Complete Recordings 1966-1977 (2010), a three-CD, one-DVD box set. With renewed attention on Vold's earlier work, putting a performance together at Kongsberg made a great deal of sense.
With Bill Frisell in Kongsberg, an even more unique opportunity arose, to not only reunite the guitarist with a bassist who figured prominently during his early days at ECM, but to do it in the context of a performance with Vold. After appearing on German bassist Eberhard Weber's Fluid Rustle ( 1979) and Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen's A Molde Concert (1982), ECM label head/producer Manfred Eicher approached Frisell with the idea of recording a solo albumhis first under his own name. But the then-young Frisell, having been quickly thrust into the international spotlight, ran into some difficulties during the sessions, and so Eicher recruited Andersen to collaborate with the guitarist on five tracks that would ultimately become Frisell's first album as a leader, In Line (1983).
Walking onstage with Vold and Andersen for the trio's 10:30PM performance at the Kongsberg Kino (Cinema), years (decades) may have passed since Frisell and the bassist had worked together, but the time melted away almost immediately, as the guitarist began to layer simply lines over Andersen's looped harmonics. Andersen was one of the first musicians in Norway to employ looping, dating as far back as If You Look Far Enough (ECM, 1993), and his approach dovetailed perfectly with Frisell's to create backdrops that ranged from near-ambient evocations of Nordic landscapes to a swinging version of "Bye Bye Blackbird. The duo even reached right back to In Line, performing Frisell's "Shorts," a song that, in its original form, combined lyricism with a quirkily ascending line that led to what was, at the time, a strong indication of a voice that may still have had more promise on which to deliver, but was already surprisingly well-formed.
And what of Vold? Surprisingly, Vold did not use his own poetry as source material for his spoken word delivery. Instead, he read from a book of poetry that had finally been translated into NorwegianAmerican Modernist poet Wallace Stevens' The Emperor of Ice Cream. The title poemas was the case with a number of the poems he readwas delivered mostly in Norwegian, but Vold did revert to English occasionally, oftentimes towards the end of the poemwas delivered over a swinging blues that Frisell and Andersen delivered with an appropriate sense of playful irony.
Jan Erik Vold
Spoken word and jazz are hardly strangers to each other, but few can deliver poetry in a cadential way. Rinde Eickert did it successfully on drummer Jerry Granelli's Sandhills Reunion (Songlines, 2005), but that was Eckert reading his own words, and in the English language. What made Vold's performance with Frisell and Andersen, with smiles all around, so special was that even when Vold was delivering Wallace's poetry in Norwegian, it wasn't necessary to know what was being said to grasp the fundamental resonance. Between Vold's delivery, and the support of Frisell and Anderson, plenty was said without a single comprehensible word being spoken.
For the final event at Silver City Sounds, AAJ was asked to conduct a public interview with saxophonist Håkon Kornstad and Jaga Jazzist drummer Martin Horntveth. Both were performing on the final day of the Kongsberg Jazz Festival, with Kornstad set to deliver an all-improvised set at Energimølla, along with bassist Skúli Sverrison and drummer John Hollenbeck, while Jaga Jazzist was set to perform the closing concert at Tubaloon.
First coming to attention with Wibuteea group that Kornstad described as marrying his jazz interests with pop artists like Björk. He has released two duo discs with pianist Håvard Wiik, a trio disc with bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, and was a member of Maryland, along with pianist Maria Kannegaard, bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Håkon Mjaset Johanssen. He also participated in keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft's Jazzland Communitya tour and album that brought together a number of the label's more important artists for tours that not only covered parts of Europe, but North America as well.
Recently, he's been involved in a duo with singer Sidsel Endresen, but most important have been his two Jazzland albums, Single Engine (2007), and the remarkable Dwell Time (2009), recorded without overdubs in an Oslo Church in the winter of 2009. One of 2009's best releases, Dwell Time is a consolidation of Kornstad's ongoing innovations of the past several years, combining a variety of honed extended techniques, curious instrumental hybrids, and a seamless integration of technology to turn the act of solo performances into something far more orchestral, defying all logic.
Coming up at about the same time as Kornstad, the path taken by Martin Horntveth could be any more dissimilar. Drummer, multi-instrumentalist and de facto spokesperson for Jaga Jazzist a group that first came together in the mid-1990s but gained international attention with the release of A Living Room Hush (Ninja Tune) in 2001Horntveth is also one-third of the sibling trifecta that's at the core of Jaga Jazzist. The group started in 1994, with brother/multi-instrumentalist/composer Lars, and sister/ multi-instrumentalist Line.
Jaga Jazzist has had a number of members come and go over the years, but has also served as the launching pad for Shining multi-instrumentalist Jørgen Munkeby; trumpeter Mathias Eick, whose 2008 ECM debut, The Door, has been well-received internationally; multi-instrumentalist Andreas Mjøs, also a producer working with groups like In the Country; keyboardist Øystein Moen, a charter member of improvising trio Puma; and guitarist Stian Westerhus who, in addition to working with Moen in Puma, has released the groundbreaking solo guitar album Pitch Black Star Spangled (Rune Grammofon, 2010).
Looking at a Jaga Jazzist stage is a bit like being in a music storedrums, bass, guitars, keys, saxophones, trumpet, tuba, trombone, flute, percussion, electronics, vibes...the list goes on. While Jaga Jazzist sound nothing like them, watching the group live is a bit like '70s progressive rock group, Gentle Giant, but also touches on the music of Tortoise, whose John McEntire finishing the mix of Jaga's latest release, One-Armed Bandit (Ninja Tune, 2010) when original producer, Jørgen Træen, had to retire from the album partway through, due to ill health.
The 45-minute interview touched on both artists' careers, including a few unexpected disclosures, including Kornstad's admission that, as a child, he sang as one of the Von Trapp Family in a production of The Sound of Music. Equally interesting was a discussion that tried to get into the big question of how a country with such a small population can have such a rich, vibrant and innovative music scene. Issues including money, educational emphasis and community were all raised, but it was SCS participant Bo Gronningaeter who raised the point that, unlike Denmark, for example, where North American jazz musicians emigrated in the 1950s onwards, until the 1960s Norway was not a particularly attractive place to live, and with no real grounding in the American tradition that has, in some ways, hobbled the developed of new music in Denmark until relatively recently, with artists like guitarist Jakob Bro, Norway has had to find its own tradition.
It made for an interesting wrap-up to the Silver City Sounds daytime activities, and a good segue into the evening's performances.