REVIEW: Oslo Jazz Band at Ronnie Scott’s

Oslo Jazz Band

Oslo Jazz Band
(Ronnie Scott’s, 5th January 2016. Review by Peter Jones.

Just what is it that makes Norwegian jazz so different, so appealing? I first became aware of the country’s distinctive take on jazz with the release of guitarist Terje Rypdal’s ECM album Descendre, recorded in collaboration with Palle Mikkelborg on trumpet and Jon Christensen on drums. The album was striking for the vast feeling of space it generated: this was serene, meditative, unhurried music, full of long notes and almost-silences. However the term ‘minimalism’ didn’t seem quite right, because there was so much going on.

By this point (1980) Rypdal had already made three albums with fellow Norwegian Jan Garbarek, and the ripples had begun to spread beyond their point of origin, leading to collaborations with the likes of Lester Bowie, George Russell and John Surman.

Roll forward 36 years, and it is remarkable how instantly recognizable that Oslo sound remains. The Ronnie Scott’s audience was privileged to hear it in the form of the first ever gig by the Oslo Jazz Band – a sort of supergroup consisting of three generations of Norwegians: senior member, pianist Jon Balke, first recorded with the influential Arild Andersen Quartet back in 1975, and recently appeared on Mathias Eick’s excellent Midwest album; saxophonist Trygve Seim and trumpet-player Eick are doyens of the current scene; whilst the younger contingent were represented by drummer Gard Nilssen and bassist/vocalist Ellen Andrea Wang.

Viewers of BBC4’s The Sleigh Ride, shown on Christmas Eve, marveled at the hypnotic beauty of the two-hour real-time reindeer-powered journey across the snowy wastes of northern Norway. It was mesmerizing, and Nilssen’s Mormor was like a musical version, with gorgeous wafts and waves of mournful melody, in which Eick’s pure, liquid soloing was particularly affecting.

One consistent feature of the quintet’s arrangements was the doubling, rather than harmonizing, of trumpet and tenor saxophone, as in Seim’s Sol’s Song and Wang’s Tropical. Another was the Norwegian gift for making instruments sound like other instruments. Seim played what I think was a curved Eb sopranino saxophone on the ghostly Sorrows no.2, bending the notes in Indian flute-like fashion while Wang provided a bowed sitar-like drone, yet the tune evolved to the point where Balke’s solo in the style of Bach fitted perfectly.

Support came from the young Oslo quartet Pixel, also featuring Ellen Andrea Wang, and featuring material from their recent album Golden Years. Saxophonist Harald Lassen’s Our Beauty was the stand-out of the set, a lush, floaty thing with three-part vocal harmony – a gorgeous contrast to the austerity of the other tunes.

CD Review: Mathias Eick – Midwest
CD Review: Pixel – Golden Years
Preview/ Interview: Oslo Jazz Band

Categories: miscellaneous

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