Garbarek, Snarky Puppy Rev Up Norway’s Oslo Jazz Festival


Jan Garbarek performs at the Oslo Jazz Festival in Norway on Aug. 14.

(Photo: ©Egil Austrheim/Courtesy Olso Jazz Festival)

Jan Garbarek, a limber and graceful reedist, played fast, loose and everything in between with his band at the 30th annual Oslo Jazz Festival, which took place Aug. 14–20.

His appearance—comprising two sold-out performances at the 1,350-seat Den Norske Opera & Ballett—was a fitting way to open this grand festival. With four balconies filled to the brim, festivalgoers were treated to what has become the rare sighting of this town’s favorite musical son.

Featuring longtime bandmate Rainer Brüninghaus on piano and electric keyboard and Yuri Daniel on electric bass, these shows were extra special due to the presence of Trilok Gurtu on all manner of drums and percussion. Indeed, Gurtu’s presence affixed an extra limb to this fully functioning body of players.

Stylistically, Garbarek veered in and out of periods from his musical past, a span that now covers close to half a century. On the whole, the arrangements were tight—the music in turns soft, lyrical, furious and playful—with nods to the spirit of Nordic folk. Alternating on sopranino and tenor saxophone, Garbarek’s playing was as strong as ever.

As the concert proceeded, the organization became more apparent; band members came and went, as if on cue, emerging from the wings to accent duos and solos. During one passage, Brüninghaus offered a study in contrasts with a solo that became a kind of recital. His playing flowing and delicate, with a classical flourish that ended with a run of the keys and a fist-banging climax.

The following uptempo quartet workout highlighted Daniels’ nimble bass work, Gurtu’s tabla playing and the leader’s searing, singing lines. A folk duet between Garbarek and Gurtu came next. Full of yearning, tenor and percussion intertwined in an intense dance, which in turn led to a magnificent drum set solo by Gurtu. Indian vocals were accented by his bass-drum pedaling, which in turn led to an amazing swoop across many cymbals, a visit to his wood blocks and assorted bells and chimes, which he periodically dipped into a bucket of water to produce a shimmering effect.

There was hardly any stage banter during this performance—apart from introducing bandmates to the crowd at certain intervals—and yet, a palpable warmth persisted. The overall impression, as the quartet returned for a brief audience-engaging encore with rhythmic clapping, was that Gurtu stole the show. The brief, playful closer only furthered this notion.

Later that evening, Brooklyn-based sensation Snarky Puppy—winner of the Jazz Group category in the 2015 DownBeat Readers Poll—revved up the full house at the 1,750-seat Sentrum Scene. The young crowd on hand was there to boogie, as if this extended ensemble was a hometown favorite.

Accented by noteworthy soloing from trumpeter Mike Maher, reedist Chris Bullock and guest drummer Jamison Ross, Snarky Puppy upheld a level of professionalism and group organization alongside their jam-band vibe and energetic funk. Despite the clean, sometimes packaged feel, Snarky Puppy clearly resonated with this festival crowd. Over the past few years, the band has played in Norway repeatedly, and the size of the venue has steadily increased.

The festival also featured a number of concerts highlighting pianists; chief among them was a set by the legendary Abdullah Ibrahim, who turned in an inspired solo concert at the Universitetets Aula hall after learning that his bandmates would not be arriving from New York.

Also turning in strong shows were pianist Jacky Terrasson and his trio at the club Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria, and Jon Balke in a solo concert at the Forstanderskapssalen–Sentralen, featuring music from his experimental piano-plus-electronics album Warp (ECM).

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