FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Oslo 2014

Bushman's Revenge at the Oslo Jazz Festival

Oslo Jazz Festival
(Various venues in Oslo, 11-16 August 2014. Round-Up by Paul Pace)

Now in its 28th year, the Oslo Jazz Festival originally comprising a series of traditional jazz events, has over the past few years, largely under the leadership of festival director Edvard Askeland, expanded its offering to embrace the majority of jazz forms and music influenced by jazz. Back in mid-August, in my capacity as jazz promoter and member of the Ronnie Scott’s booking team, I was afforded the opportunity to visit the stately centre of Oslo and sample the wide-ranging musical delights offered by a handful of venues, all within walking distance of each other.

Among the first people I met on arriving at Café Cristiania across the road from the Parliament buildings were leading pianist/producer Bugge Wesseltoft, and bass legend Arild Andersen. Andersen had assumed the Charles Mingus role in the recreating of the landmark concert known as ‘Mingus at the Aula’ at the Universitetets Aula the previous night. Wesseltoft and other prominent Norwegian musicians were handpicked by Andersen to recreate as closely as possible, the original Mingus sextet which had included Eric Dolphy and Jaki Byard when they played at the University back in 1964. The concert had been a great success, the buzz and talk still hanging in the air, of a worthy and exciting commemoration of a highly influential modern jazz concert 50 years ago.

My first night in Oslo was magical as I came to grips with the topography of an unfamiliar and largely stunningly beautiful city armed with my tourist map and festival guide. First stop was Oslo Konserthus, a theatre with a similar feel and size to that of London’s Barbican Hall, where a near capacity audience were entertained in warm and engaging fashion by Swedish singing icon Lill Lindfors who through her music had been an early proponent of bossa nova in the 60s. Indeed it was her honeyed tone and superbly understated playing by her guitar and piano led quintet on the first couple of bossas that caught me ear particularly.

Understatement though, was not in order at Oslo’s premier jazz club Nasjonal Jazzscence Victoria (capacity around 350) when ‘The Cookers’ struck up with Billy Harper’s edgy Capra Black later that evening. This versatile septet comprises veteran post-bop players such as tenorist Billy Harper, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart – the ‘babies’ of the group being alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and trumpeter David Weiss who acts as nominal leader to this cooperative of musical heavyweights. The original material was a mixture of robust improvisational vehicles and moments of lyrical beauty, two or three numbers being freshly composed by members of the band and still being worked in. A personal favourite and ‘crowd pleaser’ was Croquet Ballet, a mid-tempo swinger with a humorous tag whereby a note was subtracted for each subsequent horn chorus. Showmanship at its best and most intelligent!

Sated with my ‘bop fix’, I traversed ‘downtown’ to the much smaller Mono Café (capacity 60) for an ear workout from rock-jazz power trio Bushman’s Revenge, the aesthetic being Hendrix, Cream through to Alice Coltrane and projected in no uncertain terms by guitarist Even Helte Hermansen, electric bassist Rune Nergard and drummer Gard Hilssen. For this show, the trio was augmented by the impassioned tenor sax playing of Bergen based Kjetil Moster and the off-kilter electronica of keyboardist David Wallumrod cajoling weird and wonderful sounds from assorted effects boxes to rival and complement the compulsive groove machinations of the trio. A mesmerising performance that held the audience in this gutsy stand-up venue transfixed particularly during their confident rendition of Keith Jarrett’s Spiral Dance.

During each day of my Oslo visit I was able to take in five or more shows including the daytime Nordisk Showcase at the free-stage situated where footfall was greatest in the main thoroughfare Karl Johans Gate. Here were various bands featuring young jazz talent largely emanating from Norway’s music colleges including the nine-piece collective Kaleidofon purveying largely contemplative soundscapes building to intense jubilant passages.

Thursday evening’s highlights included a gloriously swinging performance from one of our own stars Liane Carroll who had been invited by Oslo based saxophonist Bodil Niska to collaborate at a concert held at the Edderkoppen a medium sized raked auditorium and the high stage which was normally the setting for musical theatre. Bodil who also runs Oslo’s delightful and best jazz record shop and café known as ‘Bare Jazz’, is clearly inspired by the melodicism of Ben Webster and Stan Getz. She led her quintet through a handful of standards including How About You? before Liane sauntered on stage to raise the roof with Bye Bye Blackbird, before emotionally touching the enraptured audience with In The Wee Small Hours – guitarist Hallvard Kausland was particularly impressive throughout, complementing his colleagues every step of the way as well as producing some stunning solos in the classic Herb Ellis/Joe Pass manner.

Encouragingly, there were two further performances by major UK artists both taking place at the Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria, the first being pianist and composer Django Bates’ Beloved where a number of Charlie Parker’s tunes… Star Eyes, Donna Lee and Passport were transformed with great wit and originals stood squarely in their own right such as the tortuously complex but spellbinding We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way. Bates’ extraordinary playing and rapport with his colleagues, Norwegian bassist Petter Eldh and Peter Bruun drums, and his humorous asides was a delight!

The incredible saxophone artistry of John Surman, now based in Oslo, was to the fore on the following night as he played and directed the mighty Bergen Big Band through a programme of primarily his own compositions which glistened in the hands of this highly accomplished group of musicians some of whom play regularly with the Bergen Philmarmonic Orchestra. Surman’s wife and premier jazz vocalist Karin Krog took charge on stage at the end of the concert to lead a rousing chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ and although his 70th birthday occurred later that month, it seemed fitting to celebrate a musical genius at this time.

Other musical delights that I was able to savour included the progressive Swiss pianist Nik Bartsch with his band Ronin and earlier that day leading an insightful student’s workshop organised by trumpeter and educator Arne Hiorth, the straightahead enjoyment of the Scott Hamilton/Jan Lundgren Quartet at Herr Nilsen a intimate bar and regular haunt during the festival, the exuberant Monty Alexander Trio back at the Edderkoppen, the delicious musical mayhem and spectacle of the Sun Ra Arkestra, and newer arrivals on the scene…the engaging pop-jazz quartet Pixel at the Kulturhuset led by singer and double-bassist Ellen Andrea Wang and the highly impressive ‘’Ethio-jazz’ of singer/songwriter Ester Rada…plus the Natt Jam at the end of each evening at Nasjonal Jazzscence Victoria – a great hang until the early hours where one could sit back with a beer, chat and enjoy the ‘sitting-in’ action onstage. A perfect way to wind down after all that wonderful musical stimulation!

Tony Dudley Evans' also was at the Festival. His visit didn't overlap with Paul's. His round-up of the previous two days is HERE 

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