Celebrating its 39th installment, Norway’s Trondheim Jazzfestival, which ran May 8-13, slotted starry Americans alongside some of the best-known indigenous talent.
The city primarily is a university town, rather than an industrial hub, with Norwegian University Of Science And Technology’s jazz coursework being particularly renowned. The population is flooded with youth, and consequently, there are many fast-rising bands on the local scene. The festival takes places in multiple venues, all situated around the northern harbor, ranging from full concert hall down to the Antikvariatet pub. There are plenty of performances, but mainly without worrying overlaps: It’s possible to catch most of the sets without the stress of rushing from one venue to the next.
The Dokkhuset venue provided a womb-like club situation for medium-sized shows, two of the standouts being performances by the five-piece Atomic and Ståle Storløkken’s Twilight Saloon. With their playful humour and avant-pastiche tendencies, Atomic sounds more Dutch than Norwegian or Swedish (together for almost two decades, their membership combines players from those latter two nations). Just when there’s a risk of becoming jaded with the moves of adventurous jazz, the genuinely unpredictable article slammed listeners in the face. Atomic pulverized aspects of free abstraction, creating genuine music of surprise.
Careful eggshell-treading gave way to stop-start gymnastics, with wiry flexings running through “Ten Years.” New-ish drummer Hans Hulbækmo initiated a persistent brush-scrub, minimalist but immensely infectious, just one part of his always imaginative rhythmic sense. The Swedish horn front line of trumpeter Magnus Broo and reedsman Fredrik Ljungkvist alternately were smooth and peppery, as they moved into the careening “Lucidity.” This acted as a soloing vehicle for pianist Håvard Wiik, deep in Cecil Taylor homage mode, cutting to a a bluesy tenor solo from Ljungkvist, who continued his ferocious mood during the closing “Pet Variations.”
In the same venue, the festival’s closing performance came courtesy of Ståle Storløkken’s Twilight Saloon, unveiling a complex set of compositions that the five-piece band had been fine-tuning during several days of rehearsal. The leader chiefly is known as a member of Supersilent and Elephant9, his already prodigious keyboard array complemented by Anja Lauvdal’s piano and synth. The line-up was completed by Eirik Hegdal (reeds), Lucy Railton (cello) and Hulbækmo (percussion).
The over-riding tone was that of cosmic minimalism, with rock and soundtrack extensions. All sonics were welcomed and lovingly arrayed. The palette was reminiscent of that created by the Bang On A Can All-Stars, as throbbing drones grew into the Medieval harpsichord jangle of “Sunrise Schizo Ballad.” Then, “Space Rodeo” resounded with a squalling Hegdal baritone saxophone solo, coming to a deep gong-halt, courtesy of Hulbækmo.
There were several notable sets situated in the Olavshallen Concert Hall’s smaller bar-venues. The Danish alto saxophonist Mette Rasmussen guested with MoE, a brutally staccato guitar/bass/drums rock trio. Leaden shifts of emphasis were tackled precisely, with controlled yowls as vocals, strafing guitar stutters and complex drum thunder. Rasmussen blew full-pelt, precisely shaping riff-like assaults, ably competing with the extreme volumes attained by her amplified colleagues.
Contrastingly, a pair of gigs took advantage of the refined interior of Our Lady Church, as bassist Arild Andersen surrounded himself with the Trondheim Solistene, their massed strings emphasizing and underlying the composer’s own soloing heart. Andersen’s robust presence tended to spur the ensemble toward a stirred-up expression, as he flayed his strings in an almost rockabilly style, relishing the lustier approach. Andersen improvised, seeming to take his colleagues by surprise with some of his developments. Another gig involved Henning Sommerro, playing the church’s organ in a duo with guitarist Gunnar Andreas Berg, combining sacred pomp with jazz-rock floating. Unseen from the pews, it was somewhat amusing when Sommero emerged from behind the organ to conclude the concert by walking up the aisle with his considerably smaller accordion.
Once again, at Dokkhuset, the veteran French drummer Daniel Humair was joined by a pair of Norwegians. His bold strokes around the kit skimmed across skins and cymbals alike, his piano and bass partners failing to match this force and individuality. They played Joe Henderson’s “Isotope” and Miles Davis’ “Solar” with insistent ride cymbal pulsing, punctuated by sharp strikes, Humair always finding a fresh way to inhabit a pulse, topping the set with a two-fisted squeaky solo on plastic hammers.
There were exciting discoveries to be made during the Saturday run of shows. In the book-lined Antikvariatet, David Skinner played upright piano in the middle of the room, navigating blues, ragtime, stride and boogie-woogie chestnuts, imbuing them with a symphonic swell and rhythmically aided by his own clicking heel. “Caravan” and “Stardust” were chief benefactors, as this British transplant introduced the selections in what seemingly was perfect Norwegian. Candles flickered in the daylight, and a sewing machine stood on one table. Skinner encored with Cab Calloway’s “Somebody Stole My Gal,” surrounded by an audience that wouldn’t let him out of their circle.
After midnight, the newly-formed UniVerbal Band delivered an expertly melded set of jazz and hip-hop at one of Olavshallen’s secondary stages. UniVerbal himself was equally impressive as a rapper and turntablist, each art form delivered at high velocity and with great skill. Two saxophonists provided an overlay of rich jazz content alongside contributions from an upright piano, its player adding a less-expected element of old school swing. DB