My summer has been filled with jazz music. I’ve been enjoying a couple of jazz festivals, as well as a few concerts in Oslo, so I figured I’d share some of my musical moments with you in this Second of Jazz post.
Leading off with Kongsberg Jazz Festival
In the beginning of July, I spent two days in Kongsberg during the annual jazz festival. For my part, the festival kicked off with an outdoor concert by multi-instrumentalist Stian Carstensen. He brought with him two eminent musicians for this gig, bassist Ole Morten Vågan and violinist Ola Kvernberg, both of whom we’ll hear more about later in this post. With music inspired by Norwegian folk music combined with American bluegrass (performed with lots of energy and joy), this concert was simply a very positive and uplifting start to my jazz summer.
The next day I had two concerts on my program, both of which I was looking very much forward to. The first one was a duo concert with Jason Moran and Ola Kvernberg. I was exited to hear what these two innovators would bring to the table. There was a good chemistry between the two, and they both claimed and provided each other with room for maneuver. I enjoyed their versions of "No More Blues", "Bemsha Swing", though, they really took it to the next level with their performance of "Motherless Child".
In the evening, I went to see a concert with Joshua Redman and Eirik Hegdal together with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. The interplay between Redman and Hegdal was fascinating, and there were also so many beautiful moments where the other musicians shone. A special mention goes to the man behind the contrabass, Ole Morten Vågan, who, in addition to showing his musical versatility, always brings warmth and humor to the stage!
Next stop, Molde Jazz Festival
The first concert I went to at Molde Jazz Festival was one I had been looking very much forward to. This was of course, among other things, because this composer and pianist held a wonderful concert on our Building Bridges event on the International Jazz Day this year. Espen Berg had picked out a team for his version of the "Trondheim Jazz Orchestra", consisting of Kirsti Huke (vocal), Ola Kvernberg (violin), Marianne B. Lie (cello), Sissel Vera Pettersen (alto saxophone), Hanna Paulsberg (tenor saxophone), Eirik Hegdal (saxophone and clarinet), Hayden Powell (trumpet), Hildegunn Øiseth (trumpet), Daniel Herskedal (tuba), Mattias Ståhl (vibraphone), Ole Morten Vågan (bass), Tomas Järmyr (drums) and Hans Hulbækmo (drums).
The introducer of the concert made the audience aware that the musicians were standing behind the stage, counting, up until the very moment they walked in… No wonder! I believe I wasn’t the only one in the audience who developed some serious concentration wrinkles on my forehead as these musicians worked their way through Espen’s compositions. But more important, the music nearly moved me to tears. Not because I lost the count all the time, but rather because it was impossible not to be moved by the beautiful harmonies they created, both as a group, in the many interplays, and through their individual solos. And in the end, they brought the audience to its feet. Espen and the orchestra truly deserved all the praise they received after the concert.
The next day I finally got to hear the artist in residence play. Two Steinway’s and two musical geniuses, an intriguing offering. Vijay Iyer did a duo performance with fellow pianist, Craig Taborn. I must say, this was not a concert of the most comprehensible kind, and what I mean by that is that I think these two pianists challenged the listeners in the audience with way bigger ears than mine. This was a 90 minute long intense, and at times highly abstract dialogue between two brilliant pianists.
In the evening I went to see the international band "Woman to Woman", with pianist Renee Rosnes, vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, Anat Cohen on clarinet, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, saxophonist Melissa Aldana, bassist Noriko Ueda and Allison Miller on drums. They presented music based on standard material, and this was an energetic, fun and most impressive performance. I want to give a special mention to the singer, Cécile McLorin Salvant. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the chance to hear her live before, but this was definitely not the last time.
And so I was standing in line outside of the Bjørnson Hall. I was in good company, as many fellow jazz fans had come out to hear this one. Once on stage, Herbie Hancock introduced the members of the band, featuring Terrace Martin on saxophone and keyboard, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, James Genus on bass and Lionel Loueke on guitar. For me, this concert was the creative and innovative highlight of this summer’s jazz moments. Hancock's line-up is designed to astound, and it’s a wonderful experience to get to see musicians of this caliber just let things happen in the moment. With a band leader that welcomes his musicians to explore new sounds and rhythms, magic happens. There was a lot of adventurous and enjoyable experimentation with the well known Herbie Hancock standards. Once again Hancock proves how open and explorative he is in the creative arts, and by rounding off the concert with a high jump, he also shows that a strong physique accompanies his vigorous mind.
After the Hancock concert, I got to talk a little with the "Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo' Band’s" drummer, Marcus Finnie and piano player, David Rodgers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend their concert the next evening. However, I did get to hear them play a couple of songs during their sound check right before I literally had to run to catch my flight. But, running with a fresh memory of great music in your head, is a rather good way to be in hurry.
After I got home I’ve listened to both Marcus’ and David’s respective albums, both with all original music. Both albums are great, so I wanted to write a few lines about each of them.
Marcus’ record is a fusion based album called "Boudless". Ten playful, funky and rhythmic tracks that will put you in a good mood! My favorite tracks are "Pathfinder", "Straight Forward", "Inauguration" and "First Night". David’s album, "Songs for a Generation", is a diverse record. In addition to traditional jazz compositions, it includes lyrical melodies, melodies that combines classical music and traditional jazz, and some funky tunes. Among my favorite tracks are "Sivan", "Haiku", "Awakening" and "Falling".
Make sure you check these CD’s out (Boudless & Songs for a Generation). They are great additions to your CD collection.
Two evenings at Herr Nilsen
In between the jazz festivals I’ve been to a couple of great concerts in Oslo. I’d like to mention two in particular.
First, I went to hear the "Asle Røe Quartet" at Herr Nilsen, with Petter Wettre on saxophone, Trygve Fiske on bass and Hermund Nygård on the drums. Asle Røe led this group through a program of jazz music influenced by western American country music. I also got to hear "Yotam Silberstein Quartet" play at Herr Nilsen a couple of days ago, with Yotam Silberstein on guitar, Glenn Zaleski on piano, Rick Rosato on bass and Daniel Dor on drums. They presented a program of original music, combined with some enjoyable interpretations of a few standards.
Oslo Jazz Festival is next on my agenda. Maybe it should be on yours too?
Wish you all a great summer!