I was in Norway last summer for a week-long trip. I took this opportunity to attend a few concerts from the city’s jazz festival during the three days I stayed in the capital.
Oslo Jazzfestival, whose history can be traced back to more than thirty years, might not be as well known as the most popular festivals in Europe, but it is still an important and big hub. It follows the popular format, just like many other festivals do, that brings together side activities such as free concerts, different venues in various parts of the town, club performances and jazz theater. Prominent American jazz musicians like Fred Hersch and Kenny Baron were also included in the festival program this year but the majority of the musicians and bands came were either local or came from neighbouring countries. Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen, important representatives of the living generation of jazz musicians in Norway, were the first names that caught the eye. Christensen also received the Ella Award which is given to Norwegian musicians who achieve a world-wide fame or have contributed to jazz life in Oslo.
The building called Sentralen is the headquarters of the festival management in both heart and soul. A savings bank, which opened its doors in 1901, had two of its buildings merged after a few years of renovation to reopen its doors as a cultural center in 2016. The vault, meeting rooms of the management and all the other areas can be rented for dance performances, rehearsals, concerts and even conferences. There was a small platform placed on the ground floor in addition to this and this served as a showcase of the young bands of the festival. It was almost impossible to fit seats in the small venue; the latecomers watched the concerts from the stairs or the upper floors. Sentralen is a meeting and interaction center as its name also implies. There were some people who came over from cafes nearby to listen to a piece or two and then go back. I had the chance to briefly listen to two young bands in one of the rooms in the upper floors of the building as well as Erlend Apneseth Trio with their project which is influenced by the folk music traditions.
Danish musician Sinne Eeg’s concert at Victoria Jazzscene was the first performance I watched from beginning to the end. Jazzscene was converted from an old cinema hall to a jazz club and has a warm atmosphere with its decor and ambiance. It is possible to watch the stage from the front row tables as well as private booths on the back and the two small balconies on the sides. Eeg is an award winning singer; she received the record of the year award a couple of times in her country. The trio accompanying her opened the concert while Eeg made a late entrance and started singing a rather lovely interpretation of My Favorite Things. Love songs, including her own compositions, dominated the concert. The energy seemed to drop at times on the audience-side due to the similarity of the themes of the songs but Eeg kept the spirit alive with her jokes such as “Here is another love song!” The singer wrote one of the love songs for her husband who was fed up with her complaints about her old relationships. She named this piece Love Song, in order to avoid confusion I believe! Eeg only changed the direction of the concert once to sing Aleppo, a piece she wrote for the children who suffer the consequences of the Syrian War. It was heart breaking to listen to her explain this piece by saying “Unfortunately I will talk about the lack of love this time instead of love and compassion.”
So Now You Know, whose lyrics were written by Søren Sko, Comes Love from the American Songbook, as well as The Windmills of Your Mind and It May as Well be Spring were some of the other pieces Sinne Eeg sang during the concert. During the concert, Eeg also showed that her musical ties to pianist Jacob Christoffersen, with whom she also makes records, were permanent. Together they performed a piece called Happy Talk from their ‘top secret’ (another joke) duo project. It was a compact and clean performance in general. Those who wish to know more about the singer can listen to her latest album Dreams. She is accompanied by pianist Christoffersen as well as guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Joey Baron.
I was back at the club on the second evening to discover another band I have never listened to before. It was Trondheim Jazz Orchestra’s evening. The orchestra is supported by both the Norwegian Arts Commission and the city management of Trondheim; it is a long-term project which is shaped by the contributions from different musicians. It is promoted as an orchestra which can take on any kind of project since it is considered as an open platform. They are also known for their collaborations with guest musicians Joshua Redman, Pat Metheny and Chick Corea. Their musical collaboration with Corea started in 2000 in Molde and evolved through various other festival performances together.
Bassist Ole Morten Vågan still undertakes the responsibility of the artistic director of the orchestra. Vågan refuses to categorize the context of the orchestra in a single box and rather describes it as “thirteen musicians who play together as a whole”. He mentions in an article that he writes his compositions with the unique aspects of different musicians who have never played before in mind. I can say that it was a rather dynamic musician project with spaces left for improvization (similar to conduction on occasion). Its sound was different than those we are used to with its set-up that consisted of classical jazz wind instruments, cello, violin, clarinets, vocals and two drums. The compositions, which felt like they were open to every possibility in the jazz, rock and contemporary music triangle, were similar to a cinematic score due to its topography with its ups-and-downs through the long-winded parts, sometimes manic and not resolved. There were some Northern motifs in there as well. The piece called Disco Dreams was almost like a hit (in its own category of course) and made everyone jump on their feet.I enjoyed the performance, in which the orchestra played pieces from their latest album Happy Endlings, in most of its aspects and found it eye-opening.
The last concert that I was able to squeeze in my short program was like a salutation to the masters. We listened to Terje Rypdal Conspiracy accompanied by Danish flugelhorn player Palle Mikkelborg at Klubben. Klubben, right on the ground floor of the Oslo Symphony Orchestra’s building, is a low-ceilinged ‘box’ without windows. The venue served as Club 7 and Sardines since the 1970s and has hosted Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie as well as some famous rock and funk bands. Its reopening as Klubben was a part of Røverstaden, the renovations made to allow multi-purpose use of the venue.
I have never been a devout follower or fan of Rypdal’s music but I was very curious about what he could achieve with Mikkelborg’s accompaniment. I already knew some of Mikkelborg’s work since Aura, which he wrote for Miles Davis, but I hadn’t heard him performing live before. Both of them are seventy years young; Rypdal sat down as Mikkelborg slowly walked around on the stage, wearing a short white jacket. The concert, which proceeded in the line we are used to attributing to the guitarist, I can easily say that ’matador’ Mikkelborg’s jazz touches made the real difference. It was incredibly pleasant to watch these two musicians, who were the talk of the town back when, sharing the same stage. I should note that I felt like the members of the audience enjoyed and had knowledge about Rypdal’s music. It is possible to claim that the music didn’t fit in the venue in this sense. Jordmusik sculpture located on the wide space above the club seemed to me like a representation of the electricity flowing outside.
It is a known fact that the North is very important direction of jazz with the new breaths it brings. I continued on my journey in Norway for a couple of days, feeling content to have followed this festival in Oslo, an important city in this area, however briefly. One realizes that the mysticism in the style called Nordic Jazz is not for nothing while wondering around empty roads, fjords and secluded islands. The constant rain, which makes one question if it is a ‘Viking invention’, requires one to move fast. It might be necessary to take a break from walking to look for a shelter or wait longer than anticipated in order to take photos. You need to be prepared to be alone with your own self and improvization. A different, misty jazzland.