July 4th was an exciting day and night of music, which took place in Kongsberg, Norway at their jazz festival. It would seem that they’ve resolved some of the “financial challenges” of perpetuating a festival devoted to something less popular than Top 40 music for over five decades by creating an environment that caters to their visiting public; the majority of which is mainly interested in things more popular than jazz: food stands, arts & crafts stands, drinking al fresco, dance parties, and Top 40 music. Sharing this environment is an inclusive, broad based, jazz and improvised music program that features musicians as diverse as Cassandra Wilson and Lotte Anker, Brad Mehldau and Pat Thomas, with an emphasis on established and up-and-coming Norwegian musicians. This is no mean feat.
I arrived in the afternoon of Friday the 3rd after a flight from Amsterdam (where I had performed the night before at the Bimhuis in a trio with Han Bennink and Terrie Hessels; The Ex; and with The Ex and the Ethiopian ensemble, Fendika. Before the trio with Han and Terrie, John Butcher and Andy Moor played an outstanding duo set- this was one of the great Thursday nights in recent memory!). Added to this was a hellacious trip by van where I got to experience Friday afternoon rush hour traffic through Oslo and Norway for the first time. I arrived, had some dinner and caught an excellent and very international improvising quartet with Lotte Anker (saxophones, Denmark), Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass, Norway), Ståle Liavik Solberg (drums, Norway), and Pat Thomas (piano, England), as well as a solo performance of electronics and vocals by Maja S. K. Ratkje with visuals by HC Gilje.
Saturday was based around an afternoon soundcheck and series of performances by a lineup organized by the Ståle Liavik Solberg, which featured the trio of John Russell, Ståle, and myself; followed by the violinist Mia Zabelka; and ending with the duo of Tony Buck and Magda Mayas. I’ve been lucky enough to play with John Russell a few times (a quartet with Evan Parker and Philipp Wachsmann, and a quartet with Philipp, Paul Lytton come to mind…), but I’ve never performed with Ståle, and this short set was an inspired pleasure. Mia’s solo violin improvisations were outstanding, and included occasional use of “sprechgesang” to excellent effect. Most extraordinary to my ears was the performance by the long term duo of Tony Buck and Magda Mayas, which was completely sympathetic and evolving, communicating at the highest level throughout. The evening featured another soundcheck, this time with the trio, Side A. Chad Taylor, Håvard Wiik, and I just completed a series European concerts in May, and we benefitted greatly from this work- the gig picked up right where we left off at the end of that tour. Even with rough edges in the execution on some of the pieces, the interplay and simultaneity during the improvising was pushed to risk while always holding together. Both the set by Tony and Magda, and the concert by Side A, illustrated how ongoing projects can develop music with more unique character and depth than is usually possible in ad hoc situations. The rare opportunity to illustrate my equal interests in completely improvised music, and music based on the interaction and spontaneous dialectic between composition and improvisation- all in the same day- made the experience at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival truly special.