Norwegian Voices

“The climax of a year of events that [has celebrated] Norway’s 100th anniversary. Norwegian Voices [has explored] the rich vein of music from this most surprising of countries”

The Brazz Brothers:
Jan Magne Forde (trumpet)
Runar Tafjord (French horn)
Stein Erik Tafjord (tuba)
Helge Forde (trombone)
Jarle Forde (trumpet)
Marcus Lewin (drums)

Berit Opheim (voice)
Karl Seglem (saxophones and goat horns)
Stale Storlokken (keyboards)
Terje Isungset (percussion)

Mari Boine (voice)
Terje Rypdal (guitar)
Georg Buljo (guitar)
Gunnar Augland (percussion)
Stale Storlokken (keyboards)
Paolo Vinaccia (drums)

Sidsel Endresen (voice)
Solveig Slettahjell (voice)
Beate Slettevold Lech (voice)
Jarle Bernhof (voice)

Ketil Bjornstad (piano)
Arild Andersen (bass)
Alex Riel (drums)
Andy Sheppard (saxophones)

Iain Ballamy (saxophones)
Thomas Stronen (percussion)

Arve Henriksen (trumpet and voice)
Helge Sten (audio virus)
Stale Storlokken (keyboards)
Jarle Vespestad (drums)
with Terje Rypdal (guitar)

Reviewed by: Josh Meggitt

Reviewed: 8 December, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Norway’s position at the forefront of new music was bolstered in this concert with an eclectic bill of exceedingly high quality performances. Countless strong releases have spewed forth in recent years on domestic labels like Rune Grammofon and Jazzland, and Norway’s history of jazz experimentation is well documented on ECM. Nonetheless, it was astounding to see that such boundless creativity is by no means restricted to the studio.

As Rune Grammofon label boss Rune Kristoffsen stated recently, that so much Norwegian music is of such quality is due in no small part to musicians’ unwillingness to be bound by genre restrictions. The Brazz Brothers, having spent the previous two days working with students from Morpeth Secondary School and the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College as part of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s Connect Programme, opened the concert with a new piece of music performed in the foyer. Backed up by steady funk rhythms from drummer Marcus Lewin, leader Jan Magne Forde brilliantly demonstrated the close rapport that had developed between his group and the students. Giving each student a solo in the spotlight and ending in a riotous free-for-all, The Brazz Brothers and company showed how exciting and successful music education can be.

On stage they were no less infectious, moving from brass-folk stomp through ‘jazz noir’ to straight hard-bop, Stein Erik Tafjord laying down bass lines on his tuba. The trio of breathy vocalist Berit Opheim, Stale Storlokken on keyboards (where he reappeared for most of the night’s performances) and Karl Seglem on saxophone and goat horns continued loosely in the folk idiom with attractive, sparse arrangements. In more impassioned moments it became impossible to discern Seglem’s distorted goat horn bleets from Storlokken’s electronic bleeps. Solo percussionist Terje Isungset was astounding; he moved from primitive taps and scrapes upon rocks and wood to evoking Nordic villages destroyed by herds of stampeding buffalo, his economic use of a very heavy bass drum particularly effective alongside gongs, bells and sticks attacked with his spare foot. The first half concluded with a collaboration between Norwegian guitar legend Terje Rypdal with vocalist Mari Boine, supported by a strong rhythm section. Boine’s voice and stage presence were commanding, although at times she seemed overwhelmed by Rypdal’s clichéd guitar lines.

Commissioned specifically for this concert, Sidsel Endresen’s a cappella quartet proved one of the evening’s highlights. While they did at times ‘sing’, most of the noises created seemed concerned with the human voice in transition – ticks, whirrs and pops sat elegantly beside whistles, yelps, whispers and gasps. The fragmented monochrome visuals ideally complimented the jittery post-digital sound; Endresen has perfected studies of the recorded human voice in reverse, paused, and chopped up, and, with Lech, Bernhof and Slettahjell, is adept at creating these sounds live, layering them into a coherent whole.

Pianist Ketil Bjornstad was next up in what proved to be the most conventional, although not least interesting, line-up of the programme. Alongside Arild Andersen on bass and Alex Riel on drums he offered a perfect display of the kind of post-Bill Evans ‘chamber-jazz’ so favoured by the ECM roster. Joined by English saxophonist Andy Sheppard for the final number, the group beautifully combined poignant nostalgia with bop bounce. The duet of saxophonist Iain Ballamy and percussionist Thomas Stronen followed in what I felt to be a badly co-ordinated performance. While there was nothing directly wrong with Ballamy’s fluid lines atop Stronen’s kitchen-sink real and sampled rhythms, it would have benefited from an earlier time slot as it did seem to drag.

Supersilent offered a performance that ranks among the greatest I have heard. The quartet, together with Terje Rypdal, move effortlessly from spacious, measured ambience to scorching breakneck intensity. Anchored by the riveting battery of Jarle Vespestad’s drums and led by Arve Henriksen’s pithy trumpet and vocal interjections, Supersilent resembles a more digitised version of Miles Davis’s frenzied 1970s electric period. Storlokken, his distinctive sound evident throughout most of the evening, adds more weight to Supersilent; here, he combines vast swathes of synth pads with rich bass hums, adding prickly shards of percussive bangs at critical moments. Helge Sten added further electronics, his ‘audio virus’ effecting rougher hues manipulated, theremin-like, from the positions of his hands. I was initially wary of Rypdal’s contribution, yet his guitar tones, sparingly used, were well suited to the group’s sound. A mind-blowing finale to a wonderful night of music.

  • This concert to be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in Late Junction at 10 p.m. on 4 January 2006

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