Nattjazz (Night Jazz) in Bergen is one of Norway’s longest living jazz festivals. The first festival was arranged in 1972, and since then it has been arranged every May in Bergen, parallel with the Bergen International Festival. This year I saw the opening night, and got three concerts with some of Norway’s finest jazz artists – Nils Petter Molvaer, Come Shine and Haakon Kornstad. (Picture above: Nils Petter Molvaer)
Nattjazz is held at the house called Verftet in Bergen. It is an old fish factory that has been converted to a cultural house with three concert venues and also offices for different cultural institutions and businesses. The two main venues are Roekeriet (The Smokery) and Sardinen (The Sardine). The building was reconstructed two years ago, and is today one of the best venues in Bergen.
Before Haakon Kornstad entered the stage, festival boss Jon Skjerdal said a few words and then singer Karoline Wallace and Jonas Hambre on barytone saxophone gave us a small taste of the music of their band Molecules. Beautiful and with great technical control over both voice and instrument. The band played late, and unfortunately I missed them.
Haakon Kornstad is one of our most exciting musicians. He plays tenor saxophone and also sings baroque music with a beautiful tenor. Because I had to run to the next concert before Kornstad had finished his gig, I only got to hear his tenor sax work, but not his singing. His band has an unusual instrumentation for jazz. Cambalo, an old acoustic organ, sax, stand up bass and drums.
The cembalo and organ gives the band a light and sometimes crisp sound, and combines easily with Kornstad’s playing. He has been one of Norway’s foremost saxophonists, and in 2011 he was nominated for a Spellemannpris (the norwegian Grammy) for Symphonies In My Head. The year after he debuted as an opera singer at the Norwegian National Opera in Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera.
The next concert for me was Come Shine, a band with singer Live Maria Roggen and keyboardist Erlend Skomsvoll plus Sondre Meisfjord on bass and Haakon Mjaaset Johansen on drums. Come Shine has excisted since 2001 and much of their music is classic jazz and other standards arranged with Erlend Skomsvoll’s special twist to make them their own songs.
Live Maria Roggen is, among other things, professor in jazz singing at the Norwegian Academy of Music. She is also singing in different other constellations, and is a singer with an extremely versatile voice that can change from the most introvert and soft to expressive outbursts, all of it with an almost extreme control over pitch and dynamics.
Even with a voice like Roggen’s and Skomsvoll’s way of transforming songs, Come Shine wouldn’t have been what they are without a solid rhythm section. Sondre Meisfjord an Haakon Mjaaset Johansen are tight, playful and is the perfect motor in the band. They also play with different other soloists and are a sought after duo.
At the concert yesterday night, I heard Come Shine do many songs from their newest album, Red Gold, among them Leonard Bernstein’s beautiful Somewhere from West Side Story, plus The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash. That is typical for Come Shine – whatever song they dive into, it ends up as a Come Shine song, and you never wonder how it sounded when someone else did it.
My last concert at Nattjazz yesterday night was Nils Petter Molvaer with his band. Nils Petter Molvaer is one of the pioners of the genre future jazz, a combination of traditional jazz and electronica. His breakthrough came with Khmer in 1997, and since then he has been in the forefront of modern, jazz both on the national and the international jazz scene.
The last time I saw Nils Petter Molvaer, he played with his then trio, with Stian Westerhus on guitar and electronics and Erland Dahlen on drums. Now he has a new band, with string man Geir Sundstoel on pedal steel guitar, six string banjo and guitar, Jo Berger Myhre on bass and Erland Dahlen on drums and electronics.
The bass plus Sundstoel’s steel guitar and banjo picking adds a lot to the band’s sound, which you can hear on their great new album, Switch. I can only wonder why steel guitar hasn’t been included in jazz bands before. The sound blends well with Molvaer’s trumpet and electronic sounds, and Sundstoel, as ons of Norway’s most sought after musicians, knows how to groove with Myhre and Dahlen, too.
I have seen and heard Erland Dahlen in many constellations during some years, and he has a dynamic, playful and innovative way of playing, both when he plays Americana with Claudia Scott, or jazz with Nils Petter Molvaer. There is something highly suggestive, almost hypnotic in the grooves Dahlen puts forward. In general I might be skeptical to electronica, but in this band, with the combination of the electronica and the more organic instruments and sounds, this blends together to a total sound that is both exciting and soothing at the same time.
The concert followed many of the songs from the CD, but with that added touch you get from a live performance. The audience liked what they heard, and I truly enjoyed the concert. If you should listen to only one song from this band, check out the beautiful Somewhere Shady from Switch and listen to what a great jazz instrument and sound the pedal steel is.
Nattjazz keeps on for 10 days with highlights like Dr. John, Wayne Shorter, Dianne Reeves, Madeleine Peyroux and many many more. If you are in Bergen in the last week of May or the beginning of June, be sure to check out this festival. It is intimate, it is held in a great venue with restaurant and three stages and beautiful scenery on the water front of Bergen, and the programming is just as good as any other festival in Norway and abroad.
All pictures are © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used without written permission.