Norwegian Road Trip, Part 3: Oslo, July 12-14, 2010
[Editors Note: From July 6 to July 26, 2010, All About Jazz Managing Editor John Kelman will travel throughout Norway to cover both the Kongsberg Jazz Festival (also participating in Silver City Sounds) and Molde Jazz. He'll also spend a week between the two famous festivals in Oslo, where he'll check out the scene, talk to musicians and labels, and visit the legendary Rainbow Studio for a look around and an interview with engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug, who has participated in hundreds of ECM recordings. He'll publish every second or third day, so be sure to follow him as he goes from the east coast to the west, in search of Norwegian artists known and unknown].
The 90-minute bus ride from Kongsberg to Oslo is a relatively uninteresting journey; largely inland, passing through a number of small towns, it's pleasant enough, but compared to the rapidly running river in Kongsbergor, even more, the stunning fjords of Bergen, Stavanger or Moldeit's far less dramatic countryside than that of past trips. That said, as the bus approached Oslo, things began to get more interesting.
Oslo Operahuset (Opera House)
Designed by Snøhetta, the same people who designed Tubaloon in Kongsberg, the Oslo Operahuset (Opera House) opened in 2008 and features three performance spaces and 1100 roomsnot to mention a tremendous sloping area towards the water that was built with skateboarders in mind.
After visiting Bergen, Stavanger, Molde, Kristiansand and Kongsberg over the past five years, the first impression of Oslo is that this is the closest thing to a "big" city as can be found on Norway. There are skyscrapers, and a mix of old and new architecture. It may be Norway's quiet month, where most folks are on vacation, but there are plenty of tourists wandering around Oslo, so it's hard to imagine what the streets are like when more of its residents are out as well.
Oslo City Center
The plans for Oslo are simple: do a little sightseeing, meet up with a few peopleranging from record label heads like Rune Grammofon's Rune Kristoffersen and NORCD's Karl Seglem to artists including saxophonist Petter Wettre, drummer/sound sculptor Terje Evernsen, trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær, guitarist Stian Westerhus and pianist Helge Lien, as well as representatives from organizations like Music Information Centerand take a trip to Rainbow Studio, home of so many ECM recordings, for an informal chat with its owner/engineer, Jan Erik Kongshaug. The live scene is quiet at this time of year, for jazz in particular (most artists are on the road already or preparing for festival appearances), but if time permits and the opportunity arises, perhaps there will be a show or two in the cards as well.
- July 13: A Visit to Rune Grammofon HQ
- July 13: Music Information Centre
- July 13: Coffee with Petter Wettre
- July 13: Dinner with Terje Evensen
- July 14: Tourist for a Day
- July 14: Dinner with Karl Seglem
Rune Grammofon started in 1997 with the release of 1-3noise improv group Supersilent's much-lauded three disc debut, now releasing a dozen titles a year, ranging from the lyrical piano trio of Espen Eriksen to the more sonically expansive trio In the Country, pop group Susanna and The Magical Orchestra, keyboard power trio group Elephant9, indie/prog rockers Motorpsycho and ambient folk experimentalists Huntsville. The label has also launched a vinyl-only imprint this past year, The Last Record Company, though they've been dabbling in vinyl since Supersilent 6 (2003), putting Rune Grammofon on the bleeding edge of the recent resurgence of interest in 12" platters.
Rune Grammofon Head Rune Kristoffersen
The Rune office is in an inauspicious location, sharing space with the larger Grappa label (which distributes ECM in Norway), up three flights of stairs in an old office building near City Hall. For a label that's now 13 years-old, and has, in many ways, redefined the scope and potential of Norwegian independents, it's no particular surprise that Molde Jazz 2010 will, in addition to its Artist in Residence program, feature Rune Grammofon as its first Label in Residence. "I just had the idea that since they have the 50 year celebrationactually one of the oldest jazz festivals in Europe, maybe the oldest jazz festivalI thought maybe they could do a label residence, and they took the bait," says Kristoffersen. "We had some good discussions and I more or less left it up to the festival to decide the artists.
"They also had the idea about a cover exhibition, at the local arts center in Molde," Kristoffersen continues, "which I thought was good, and I'm very curious about how they've handled it, because I've not yet seen it. We're doing an exhibition of the complete works, which is the sleeves themselves, and then we have some posters and things. When we were celebrating our fifth year we had an event in London, at an art gallery, with an exhibition where we had blow-ups of details from sleeves, which is quite nice, and we did a couple of concerts at the same time. They've been stored away in flight cases ever since, for seven years now, and now they're out, and are going to be a part of it at Molde. It's really nice stuff; they really liked it there as well."
The festival will also host a number of performances by Rune Grammofon artists, including one very special event that promises to be especially noteworthy. "In the Country will be there," says Kristoffersen, "Espen Eriksen Trio will be there, we have Bushman's Revenge, Puma, Stian Westerus is doing a show with [singer] Sidsel Endresen. Motorpsycho is doing a big thing with Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Trondheim Solistene, which is a really high level orchestra, and it's all been put together by [keyboardist] Ståle Storløkken, from Supersilent; he's sort of the main musical director of the whole thing."
Speaking of Supersilent, after taking something of a hiatus between 2004 and 2007, and losing drummer Jarle Vestpestad last year, the group is now busier than ever. "Supersilent will have possibly three albums out this autumn," Kristoffersen explains. "The first one is due late August, and that's an interesting one, it's the first recording they did as a trio. They did it at Rainbow Studio, and Ståle is playing quite a lot of acoustic piano [Editor's Note: 2009's 9 was Supersilent's first release without Vespestad, but the session was recorded after the one described here by Kristoffersen]. It's excellent. One of them is from the 8 (2007) sessions, where they really had a lot of material, and one they did at the studio where they have done quite a lot of things. I haven't heard that one, but the Supersilent 8 tracks are really good; I think that one might be vinyl only."
Releasing three projects from one group in a year is rare in the current climaterare, in fact, since the 1960s and '70s, when artists like Miles Davis released as many as four albums in a single year. In some ways its validation of the label's growth from underdog/underground label to one that, while not by any means mainstream, has gained the kind of acceptance and brand loyalty from its fans that's not unlike larger labels like ECM, which Rune Grammofon distributed in Norway until a few years ago. "I am saying that twelve is the absolute limit of what we can do each year," Kristoffersen says, "but I'm going to over it this year [laughs]. It's been a frustrating thing, and a problem, if you like, for the past few years, that there's just so much that I'd like to release. Lately, I've been starting to turn down really good Norwegian stuff, because it's a capacity problem, and I don't have a really big ambition about growing and hiring a lot of people."
"Obviously it's problematic to grow, because of how the business is at the moment. There's a limit to how many CDs you can sell; maybe CDs are on the way out. Obviously if I had a major big seller somehow, I might have to get somebody in; but when you don't have that and you're back to the marginal stuff, then what do you do? I don't know. Most people abroad think this is an operation that's three or four people; everybody takes that as a certainty. But I'm only one, basically, with Melanie Arents, who moved to Oslo a couple years back and now does promotion for Rune Grammofon in Germany and a guy in London who does some promotion. I do everything, including sending out the mail order. So, you can call it a problem, but it's not a bad problem."
Kristoffersen continues to marvel at the seemingly endless growth of the music scene in Norway. "It's crazy. Several years ago I was thinking, 'When is this going to stop? It's just a boom or a wave, it has to stop.' But it's just been increasing over quite a lot of years, since 1997 when it all started with Bugge [Wesseltoft] and Nils Petter [Molvær] and Supersilent. So that's when it started, but it's been 12-13 years now, and it's just not normal [laughs]."
Crazy it may be, but with a constant proliferation of new labels, and imprints like Rune Grammofon, Jazzland, and others now representing, to some extent, "legacy" labels, there seems to be no end to the groundswell of music coming out of Norway.