Charles Alexander writes:
It was a complete surprise and a delight when Jazzwise and Master Travel invited me to be Tour Leader of their Nordic Sounds tour in July.
Norway, which I first visited in the late 1980s, is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe and also one of its most musical. The rugged grandeur of its mountains and fjords, the clear northern light and its challenging climate are reflected in the work of its many writers, artists and musicians. This tour starts in Oslo, spends two days enjoying the Kongsberg Jazz Festival and then winds its way by road and the world’s steepest railway through beautiful mountain landscapes including the Hardangervidda Mountain Plateau towards the fjord village of Fläm. Here we cruise by boat to the world’s deepest fjord, Songefjord, staying overnight in the delightful mountain village Ulvik. From there we sail along the coastline to Bergen where, among other pleasures, you may visit the house of composer Edvard Grieg.
There is an optional tour extension to Denmark (8-12 July) where we visit Copenhagen, one of Europe’s celebrated jazz cities, and Aarhus which hosts a wonderful informal jazz festival in its cosy cafes, bars and open-air in its parks and squares.
Over the past 40 years Norwegian jazz artists such as saxophonist Jan Garbarek, trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and bassist Arild Andersen have built an international reputation for their highly individual and expressive music. We shall have an opportunity to listen to Arild Andersen’s quartet at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival which celebrates its 50th anniversary while we are there. Alongside Arild Andersen on bass will be the Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson, the Norwegian saxophonist Bendik Hofseth and the legendary US drummer Billy Hart, plus a special guest! Other artists at Kongsberg during our visit include Dave Holland’s Prism, Joshua Redman, Jan Gunnar Hoff and the saxophone trio of Peter Brötzmann, Evan Parker and Joe McPhee.
My first trip to Norway just over 25 years ago took the form of a walking holiday with a friend (he called it “walking”; I called it “climbing”).His wife has an aunt in Oslo, famed for her hospitality, who invited us to consider her house as our base. So, laden with her unexpected but most welcome packed lunches and suppers, we set off for a few days warm-up walking in the wooded hilly Nordmark Vinter region just north of Oslo before returning to that city for a short spell of R&R. This included a visit to Club 7, Oslo’s leading jazz spot in those days, to hear a quartet of Sweden’s finest jazz musicians including the legendary pianist Bengt Hallberg, clarinettist Arne Domnérus and guitarist Rene Gustafsson. I recall our surprise at finding the Brazilian maestro Hermeto Pascoal at the next table. Meanwhile a Norwegian music journalist of my acquaintance introduced us to singer-songwriter Lillebjorn Nilsen, who frequently visited London to record with musicians such as bassist Danny Thompson. After Club 7 closed for the night, they took us to another larger club, on one level of which we encountered the Gypsy jazz of guitarist Jon Larsen with his trio. Through his label Hot Club Records, Larsen has played a major role in the revival of interest in Gypsy jazz over the past 30 years, releasing over 450 albums and spotlighting outstanding talents of the genre such as the Rosenberg Trio and Angelo Debarre.
The following afternoon found us sailing in a friend’s boat in the Oslofjord, with Oslo to the north behind us we explored this beautiful island-dotted inlet. Thus refreshed – more or less – and with even more provisions from our generous hostess, we set off on our main week-long walk. This was to be in the Jotunheimen National Park whose spectacular landscape includes Northern Europe’s two highest peaks. We walked, climbed and hiked; in the morning gazing down 1,000 metres from the side of a mountain into a crystal clear lake, in the afternoon scrambling over a lunar, rock-strewn terrain, seemingly bereft of plants, and towards evening making a long, gradual descent during which small shrubs become small trees and finally forest.
Staying overnight in tourist huts, we cooked and enjoyed the company of the Norwegians we met there. Typically, the conversation would turn to music and someone would always enquire, “Have you heard the music of Jan Garbarek?” Certainly we had…and the music of bassist Arild Andersen, guitarist Terje Rypdal and many more. And yes, we were aware that ECM maestro Manfred Eicher’s favourite recording studio was the Jan Erik Kongshaug’s Rainbow Studio in Oslo. After several days we returned to Oslo via the coastal route, accepting the kindness of strangers who would offer us lifts in their cars and point out more beautiful sights.
I also had the opportunity to visit Denmark on several occasions in the 1980s, hearing great jazz in Copenhagen and in Aarhus which was hosting the EBU (European Broadcasting Union). I had never before seen so many bicycles in one place before as outside Aarhus cathedral, where I attended a fine concert of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music.
Full information about Nordic Sounds on the Master Travel website HERE