Trondheim Jazzfest – The Brooklyn Rail
Trondheim Jazz Festival
May 10 – 15, 2022
In reality, Trondheim is in central Norway, but this city still feels very northern compared to other festival locations in Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger and Molde. Trondheim Jazzfest took its current name in 1998, but its roots date back to 1980. Spanning a week, it colonizes a multitude of venues throughout the city, including theatres, cafes, bars and arts centres.
One of the city’s main exports is the Trondheim Jazzorkester, which has also performed regularly on the Norwegian festival scene since its inception in 1999. It is extremely versatile, with malleable instrumentation that facilitates wildly different stylistic possibilities. Chick Corea, Pat Metheny and Jason Moran represent their main collaborators, but the Orkester has also worked with the Swiss math-rock combo The MaxX, for example.
New York-based Canadian saxophonist Anna Webber joined the Orkester for this Jazzfest, composing its eight parts Auditory topography for a line-up that included such notable players as saxophonist Mette Rasmussen, keyboardist Liz Kosack, bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Hans Hulbækmo. The twelve-piece band had doubled drums, basses, keys and tubas, initiating a certain bias and sonic balance from the start. This performance at the Dokkhuset waterfront venue had been delayed from its original date of 2021.
Webber has been writing works for large ensembles for about a decade, and this latest piece represents a significant peak in expression. Originally a bandleader, Webber chose Rasmussen as lead saxophonist, climbing to extremely high notes, as the Jazzorkester made isolated bursts of power, cut with percussive marks from the drumheads and bows of the upright basses. There was a gagaku parsimonious, notated, but with sounds drawn from a free vocabulary of improvisation. A symmetry of paired instruments was always varied, as the accordion was paired with electric and electronic keyboards, while percussionist Matilda Rolfsson impressed with her specialized technique of small gongs dragged at the edges through the skins. There was a Braxton-ish hit of volume and antics, separate phrases, punctuated by brief pauses, as Webber picked up his tenor saxophone, his opening solo providing the most jazz-based articulation in the album. together.
Kosack’s electro-palette was imaginatively abrasive, as it left streaks of space in its wake. Drummers surveyed clusters of wood, then most of the band members suddenly sang in a wordless unit. Rasmussen soloed in a pointillist section, providing plap-hup alto nonsense, as an eerie New Orleans party groove emerged – to end its life as a Louis Andriessen-style stutter. Rasmussen played the serenade with a reed-shake vibrato, as the paired tubas recalled the sonic palette of Henry Threadgill’s Very Very Circus. Another notable stretch featured group whistles, high-skating accordion, tiny electric chirps, and a solo by Webber on flute.
In contrast, guitarist Lage Lund was a guest in saxophonist Petter Wettre’s band, both musicians being transplanted Norwegians. They appeared in the DIGS Café side-theatre, with Daniel Franck (bass) and Jakob Høyer (drums). The smoky tenor formed a relaxed vibe, with Lund operating within a traditional guitar sound, swingin’ and bright, floating, and with an almost indistinguishable thrill of light distortion. The notes echoed fleetingly, as Lund held them a bit longer than most players, before floating on a new jet stream. He explored softly stated angularities, with speed-bop ease. Lund and Wettre made deft dueling exchanges, to “I Remember You”, with the guitarist sitting for a while. Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” featured sung harmonic decoration, courtesy of Lund, with Wettre arriving at an a capella tenor conclusion.
The Samfundet student building, with its maze of potential stage spaces and quirky retro interior design, hosted a festival within a festival on Friday and Saturday evenings, with highlights provided by the Norwegian quartet Kalle and the Franco-Belgian trio Darrifourcq/Hermia/Ceccaldi. These two elements represented ends of dynamic contrast, with the latter being more jazz/improv-based.
Kalle involved an unusual combination of heavily electronic drums, guitar, saxophone and tuba, the latter played by the highly imaginative Heida Mobeck, using brutally low bass lines and pure abstract sound reformation. Guitarist Martin Miguel Tonne is also a member of rock quartet Pom Poko, those masters of complex melodic angularity, here increasing the depth and unpredictability of the Kalle combination.
Sylvain Darrifourcq, Manuel Hermia and Valentin Ceccaldi use drums, tenor saxophone and cello, often dense with stop-start jerks, ripping off ears with assaults of friction, then operating with spectral inconsistency. Their heavy riffs were appealing outside of jazz, but their quieter passages operated in the most extreme zone of minimalist improvisation caresses. Their compositions sound like improvisations, but if you catch them (judiciously) several times, recurrences can be gleaned.
On a lighter note, the Jazzfest concluded with a great performance by Stian Carstensen, known for his Balkan-jazz-speed-metal band Trondheim Farmers Market, together since 1991. He goes from accordion to guitar to keyboards on a low whistle banjo, sing and lead a band that includes conventional strings, as well as harp and cimbalom. It’s an exotic spread, at times kitsch or comedic, virtuoso in execution, laid-back in intent, played to a crowded Byscenen, which had the strong smell of a standing rock hall.
It was a strong throwback to the full Trondheim lineup of yore (i.e. pre-2020), also including one of the best Jan Garbarek performances your scribe has ever witnessed, plus a new discovery, the Synesthetic 4, a Viennese quartet that has not mixed undulating guitar contortions, Dada vocalizations, labyrinthine clarinet solos and nervous funk rhythms. Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten offered their new band, the Guts and Skins Octet, with its three international female quarters on the front line of horn, as well as Alexander Hawkins on piano and Hammond B3 organ . Sensitized loose scum has often given way to intense rumination, or waves of drones, or Afro-funk exultation, this set catering to many tastes, without compromise. Scary !