REVIEW: Trondheim Jazz Exchange at 2016 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Trondheim Jazz Exchange Ensemble One.
L-R Elliot Sansom, Bjørn Marius Hegge, Jonathan Silk, Signe Emmeluth, David Sear
Photo by John Watson /©

Trondheim Jazz Exchange
(Parabola Theatre, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 30th April 2016. Review by Peter Slavid)

One of the the delights of Cheltenham comes from the result of their collaboration with the Trondheim and Birmingham Conservatoires. Each year students from the two colleges collaborate to put on three bands, each with two musicians from each country. The newly formed bands do a gig in Birmingham and then start the Saturday programme at Cheltenham at noon in the Parabola Arts Centre. This year they will also be flying off to repeat the gigs at the Trondheim Festival in Norway.

At least one permanent band has grown up from these collaborations in the past, and the standard of musicianship is always extremely high.

This year the instrument line-ups were more varied than usual, and the quality of the arrangements were also outstanding, particularly given the limited time these groups have together.

As you might expect none of the bands have names. Ensemble 1 (below) was a Norwegian front line with a British rhythm section. Hogne Kleiberg piano, Karl Nyberg saxophone, Gwilym Jones drums and Aram Bahmie bass. They opened with the broken rhythms of a Theolonious Monk tune which they proceeded to break even further, and ended with a McCoy Tyner tune, neatly positioning the style in the Coltrane period with blistering sax from Nyberg in particular.

Trondheim Jazz Exchange Ensemble One.
L-R Hogne Kleiberg, Aram Bahmie, Gwilym Jones, Karl Nyberg
Photo by John Watson /©

Ensemble 2 was completely different. The drumless line up of Sondre Ferstad harmonica, Simon Övinge guitar, Vittorio Mura tenor saxophone, and Ben Muirhead bass had a distinctly Scandinavian sound, very atmospheric, almost cinematic, but with plenty of variety in a single long composition. The harmonica, with its ability to bend the notes, worked well in this environment and gave the sound its slightly ethereal quality

Ensemble 3 (top image) was different again. Structurally this was more conventional jazz, but with the interesting sound combination of alto sax and trombone. It also unusually had a fifth member. It may have been cheating slightly since Jonathan Silk, whilst he is indeed a student at Birmingham is a postgraduate and an established artist already. However, that shouldn't detract from the quality of this band with Signe Emmeluth saxophone ; Bjørn Marius Hegge bass, Jonathan Silk drums, David Sear trombone and Elliot Sansom piano. Fine soloing all round but I was particularly impressed with two unusual and witty tunes composed by Emmeluth which were quirky enough to make me think of Carla Bley.

This was the best trio of bands that I can remember in several years of watching these collaborations. Overall I was hugely impressed with both the quality and maturity of all these artists. Any one of the ensembles could be a big success and I was left with the impression that the audience would have been happy to hear a full set from any one of them.

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