Nordic Sounds Abound at Vossa Jazz Festival

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Vocalist Simin Tander brought disarming depth and entrancing spirit to the Vossa Jazz Festival in Voss, Norway, on March 20.

(Photo: Courtesy of Vossa Jazz Fest)

But for many years now, Endresen has held fast to a rigorous code of free improvisational experimentation, exploring a private domain of gestures and often abstract vocabulary, which includes cathartic extended vocal detours, enlightened gibberish and echoes of a folkloric sensibility only partly tethered to Norway, with possible links to alien life forms of her imagination. Suffice to say, Endresen occupies an expressive word of her own devising, although she happily invites duet partners or parties to engage in dialogues with her.

In Voss, Endresen was appearing as part of a long multi-artist show celebrating the Norwegian label Jazzland— a list that includes keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft and electronics/remixologist master Jan Bang (the co-founder and director of the legendary, specialized Punkt Festival in Norway). The duo matchup of Endresen and Bang made for one of the stranger, unexpected and—for those of us who are believers—ecstatic events of the weekend.

Whereas normally, the singer works with instrumentalists, here, she provided the live putty that Bang then reshaped, remixed, looped and fed back parts into the mix. Between the already enigmatic vocal parts and tones naturally put forth by Endresen and Bang’s deconstructionist instincts, what resulted was a free-spirited giddy madness.

This year, Osasalen’s special and acoustically-warm wood-lined room played host to artists as diverse as the potent and memorable “free jazz” duet of reed player Frode Gjerstag Og and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, the lyrical piano neo-trio-ism of the Eivind Austad Trio, and the distinctive dusky theatricality of Morten Qvenild’s “The Hyper(sonal) Piano” set. In a darkened room, with a headlamp over his heavily prepared piano and electronics labyrinth, Qvenild channeled some art pop-meets-sound world experimentalism turf where echoes of Bruce Hornsby, Robert Wyatt, Harold Budd, Conlon Nancarrow and Brad Mehldau (lite) merge, in an evocative fog.

A magnetic nucleus of Voss is its remarkable stone church (built circa 1277), the Vangskyrkja, site of a special “jazz mass” for the Sunday morning congregation and what was likely the festival’s greatest “secret treasure” show.

Ironically, marketing may have kept some away in the show dubbed “Tenor Battle” and sporting its protagonist, Håkon Kornstad in mannered 18th-century wig and attire/attitude. What might have appeared like a PDQ Bach-style novelty act was something else entirely. Said “battling tenors” are contained in one skin: Kornstad is both a fine tenor player, and an operatic tenor (verging on counter tenor), who miraculously drew together the worlds of opera arias and jazz expression, a rare feat of a jazz-ical crossover venture with artistic integrity and heart intact.

The ambience of the church turned an unusual yet highly musical project into a special, site-specific, “only in Voss” experience.

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