Meeting about Norwegian jazz in Münster

(photo credit: Dick Makin)

The Norwegians are highly successful and pro-active in supporting and profile-building for Norwegian jazz. A plethora of publicly funded organizations get solidly behind the music. Maybe the weight of evidence will eventually overturn the late, great Mike Zwerin's assertion in his book "Close Enough for Jazz" that "governments don't swing." One day...

A seminar in advance of the Münster Jazz Festival, which I attended as a member of the German Radio Jazz Research Group, gave enlightenment as to how the phenomenon works.

It was slightly surreal to be discussing "Mountain Jazz" and "fjord jazz" in a landscape as flat as Münsterland, but they were topics which wouldn't go awayThat's because promotion doesn't happen without branding, and branding doesn't happen without some simplification and trivialization taking over. So if just about every review of Jan Garbarek's records describes his sound as being like "tundra-at-dawn," that's showbiz.....

If the clichés are an easy refuge, the Norwegians who spoke at the meeting, especially serious and thoughtful musicians in their early thirties such as bassist Per Zanussi and saxophonist Håkon Kornstad, were keen to stress the breadth and of their influences. Zanussi is of Italian origin. Kornstad, very much his own man, had found that the Trondheim Conservatoire, often held up as a model, was a place he needed to get away from. Wibutee a band in which Zanussi and Kornstad used to work together, certainly does draw on a wide palette of other music.

One Norwegian promoter at the meeting rebelled against the idea of Nordic jazz unavoidablyreflecting the slower pace of life, the darkness and the snow of the North, which Stuart Nicholson had contrasted with New York jazz, reflecting impatience. He had a point, but such images stay indelibly, and business being business, Kornstad's latest album doesn't exactly hide away a strong feeling for snow:

The new generation of Nordic musicians has moved a long way from notions such as what the Swedish composer Stenhammar called "Nordic chastity and formal simplicity" - and will certainly not be constrained by them. The interactions between British musicans and Norwegian musicians have never been healthier and stronger: John Surman, John Taylor, Iain Ballamy, Dave Morecroft are but a few of those who currently have projects running.

We expect to publish a write-up of the Münster Jazz Festival itself in the next few days. The Festival is held every two years. This year's had sixteen bands (no Brits), was recorded by WDR3, and had completely sold out within days of opening for booking.

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