(First night of Tape to Zero. Nasjonal Jazzscene Oslo, 3rd April 2014. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
This is a very first trip to Norway for me, in search of the unknown and the unfamiliar. The fourth Tape To Zero Festival over two days didn't have a single name I recognized. Just go, I thought, go for it, get out of the musical comfort zone.
My first step before coming here had been to interview and get the background from the co-founder of the festival Terje Evensen .
Of the three acts on the first evening I was most taken by the keyboards/ drums duo of Morton Qvenild on piano and Gard Nilssen which they call sPacemoNkey and which has a new album The Karman Line (Hubro).
These are both very busy musicians. Qvenild travels widely as a key member of both Jaga Jazzzist and Susanna and the Magical Orchestra. Nilssen recently took on the task of anchoring and propelling the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra through their project with Marius Neset (reviewed here), so their duo project sPacemoNkey, which they have apparently contemplated for many years, has only just become reality.
The range of possibilites, moods and textures from piano/ hyperpiano and electronically assisted drum kit produced a very satisfying set indeed. Qvenild goes all the way from sitting hunched at the keyboard like Bill Evans, quietly brooding over alternating rising minor sixths and major thirds, to bringing on the full electronic hyperpiano trick box and standing tall, swaying like a rock god. Nilssen on this hearing sounded like a very completely equipped drummer, incorporating delicate, attentive supportive playing, but rising to full-on presence, and with a mastery of timbres such electronically assisted temple gong sounds, or testing out the acoustic possibilities of a pair of huge Istanbul cymbals.
I particularly enjoyed a moment when they established a mesmerically slow pulse of about six beats a minute, and produced out of it something much faster, like a thumping 96bpm. A musician near me picked it up early and started nodding to it. It was infectiously rhythmic.
On a first encounter Kjetil Husebø's “Skyggespill” (Shadow Play) seemed to occupy a space somewhere between the live-sampling of Bill Fontana or Chris Watson (not my thing) and the full-on visceral ground-shaking nausea-inducing decibel attacks of Ben Frost. That said, what is different in what Husebø does from either of these is, first, the way he uses surround video to reinforce the textural contrasts, and second the deliberate, musical construction into sections, movements, to provide a kind of narrative. Nevertheless, until he started to use a ring modulator near to the end of his set, there seemed to be little connection between his actions/ facial expressions as an on-stage performer and the sound being produced. I find that degree of performer disconnect in a live situation tricky, but I know that others don't.
The duo collaboration of Jessica Sligter and Susanna (Wallumrød) is recent but promising. So far they have concentrated on songs derived from simple, repeated ostinati. They are both highly musical, it's a lovely sound, particularly the harmonized voices. They have very different solo presences, Susanna more ethereal, Jessica more dramatic. It will be interesting to see what direction this duo takes as they take on more ambitious material and more story-telling.
And what a great music room the Nasjonaljazzscene, right in the centre of Oslo is. It's an old cinema, from the 1930s, I was told. It's quite big for a jazz room, shoe-box-shaped, with full capacity of about 350. You can either sit at a table in the body of the hall, or perch yourself on a bar stool - some are quite close to the stage. Or you can take your companion off to a discreet banquette. Or a balcony. Or a box. In fact, I don't know of another hall which gives the listener - NB so long as you arrive early - quite so many choices to the define kind of person, the kind of listener, you want to be and the kind of evening you want to have.