Holland Headlines Nordic Jazz Fest by the Lake, Below the Slopes


David Holland will headline the Vossa Jazz Festival which takes place in Voss, Norway, from March 18–20

(Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

Norway’s contribution to the conversation and culture of jazz is by now thoroughly entrenched, in terms of influential artists entering the international slipstream of distinctive music, legendary government support of jazz (musicians and events), and also through the force of festival culture.

Among the best-known festivals are the Molde Festival, the Bergen Jazz Festival in May, the Kongsberg festival in July, and the Oslo Jazz Festival in August, along with festival action in Trondheim, Silda, and elsewhere.

And not at all incidentally, occurring earlier in the spring/summer season as a kind of festival season gateway event, all roads lead to the idyllic lakeside village of Voss, come Easter time in Norway. The Vossa Jazz Festival, the 43rd annual version of which runs March 18–20 this year, has been an oddly under-recognized festival, but bursts with intrigue and artistic substance, and has maintained its strong cred under the guidance of charismatic artistic director Trude Storheim, for the past decade.

Music aside, the hosting city and area of Voss itself makes for a stunning setting, and the timing usually is blessed by crisply cold but agreeable weather, between the rigors of winter and the onset of spring. About two hours’ drive/train ride from Bergen, Voss is a small town (population 14,000) perched by a lake, and, on the opposite side, with steep mountains leading dramatically up to a ski resort, looming over the town.

While other Norwegian jazz festivals balance the mix of American, Scandinavian and European artists, Vossa Jazz trains its focus more on Norwegian and other music from the region. This year, for instance, the one prominent American visitor is Dave Holland, bringing his trio with guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire.

Much of the musical programming takes place in the large, centralized and lake-adjacent Park Hotel, in a theater space and several smaller venues on the ground floor. But subtler, acoustic and chamber-esque concerts often take place by day in the Ossasalen hall of the Ole Bull Music Academy, a short walk away.

This year’s Ossasalen fare includes the folklore meets accordion and the indigenous Hardanger fiddle project, Soga Om Seselja, Morten Qvenild’s The HyPer(sonal) Piano and acclaimed Norwegian vocalist Kjersti Stubø’s quintet.

Special concerts also take place elsewhere in town, including the Vangskyrkja, the town’s 13th century church—famous for having survived the brutal Nazi blitzkrieg during WWII which destroyed much of the rest of the town (like much of Western Norway).

One of the festival’s proud traditions is a commissioned work, premiered in a prime Saturday night slot in the Park Hotel. Past commissions have gone on to build legacies of their own, including Nils Petter Molvaer’s Khmer project—which launched his global reputation after a recording on ECM—and, more recently, Matthias Eick’s Voss.

This year’s commission goes to another well-known Norwegian musician with ECM ties, Nils Ø;kland, who will present an expanded version of the ensemble behind his 2015 ECM album, Kjølvatn. As is customary, the commissioned work is followed by a ceremonial Hardanger “smalahove” feast with VIPs, guests, artists and the occasional lucky journalist—half an intact, boiled sheep’s head, accompanied by a custom distillation of the Nordic ceremonial libation, aquavit.

Among other highlights of the 2016 Vossa Jazz roster is a cross-cultural grouping which finds enterprising Danish drummer/networker Kreston Osgood playing—for the first time—with Europe-embraced Americans, Alan Silva, Herb Robertson and Benny Maupin.

Elsewhere in the diverse program, Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad brings her big, metal-infused jazz-fusion sound to the festival, and Cortex promises to keep its promise as avant-heady party meisters.

A night of artists from the Norwegian Jazzland label includes such noted artists as ucompromising vocalist legend Sidsel Endresen, versatile keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft and painterly electronics wizard Jan Bang.

Bang, it so happens, is one of the driving forces behind yet another famed Norwegian festival, the unique and respected remix phantasmagoria known as Punkt, in early Septemeber.

But Voss is where the Norwegian festival games begin each year, by proud tradition.

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