ROUND-UP REVIEW: Trondheim Jazzfest 2017

The Trondheim Festival hotel , the Scandic Nidelven

Trondheim Jazzfest 2017
(Trondheim, Norway, 9 – 14 May. Round-up review and photos by Henning Bolte)

Trondheim pioneered Norwegian jazz-education at the end of the 1970s, a course that is now part of the Music Department of Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). It has yielded a long series of musicians of the post-Garbarek generation with a strong impact on the development of Norwegian jazz in all its facets. The six-day Jazzfest is part of the coastal series of spring festivals along with Stavanger and Bergen; it’s an accessible affair, with short walking distances between venues and the famous Dokhuset at the centre.

I attended part of the festival (12-14 May), and that forms the object of this review which I have divided into a number of themes:


Led by Canadian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen the 19-piece Basement Ensemble (Kjellerbandet) of Trondheim students indulged itself in a wealth of panoramic instrumental colours and bathed in bright as well as subtle tonal extravagance – undoubtedly a great experience for them and the audience. It came with a strong North American influence.

Special projects of/with NTNU students are a regular part of the Jazzfest programme. For the seventh consecutive year, a young group of the NTNU jazz department presented its reworking of popular pop and rock classics from the Trøndelag region. This time the music of Ulf Risnes and Three Little Chinese (Tre Små Kinesere) was adopted. Arranged by Heidi Skjerve and Daniel Buner Formo. It was performed by a 13-piece ensemble (3 vocalists, 4 saxophones, 1 harmonica, 2 drummers, guitar, piano and bass) led by the two arrangers. It is a significant approach rendering an enjoyable and insightful outcome.

Jazzfest also had mini-concerts with talented young jazz musicians from the region, this year Lurifax, , Trio On Hold and Orbit Trio from the jazz programs of Birka, and Sund folk high school from the south of Trøndelag region. The performance of the trio BØ (guitar, bass, drums) spoke to me a lot. The threesome had a wonderful stripped down approach with twists of its own and a gentle but strong vibe. As individuals they really were the music they played and vice versa.

There were also performances by groups formed as part of a student exchange between Birmingham Conservatoire in the UK and the NTNU jazz department. Six students from Birmingham and six from Trondheim met and formed three units, first in Birmingham and at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, then here. It is a laudable concept with an enjoyable outcome.

The defamiliarizing perspective

The Trondheim programme is a diverse one including artists versed and driven in playfully defamiliarizing and turning around automated perceptions, worn out routines and fixed functionalities. Last year bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen’s Nakama (violinist Adrian Løseth Waade, pianist Ayumi Tanaka, drummer Andreas Wildhagen) was one of the revelations in that direction. Sven-Åke Johansson, one of the old generation’s masters of this made an exhilarating appearance in duo with bassist Joel Grip – organized in collaboration with nyMusikk. Young French electric guitarist Julien Desprez is a representative of the younger generation working in the same vein.

Joel Grip

Sven-Åke Johansson, who has lived in Berlin since 1968, is of the Brötzmann/von Schlippenbach/Kowald generation of European free jazz founders. He is especially known for his “de- and re-functionalizing” work with everyday objects exemplified by works like Overture for Handheld Fire Extinguishers and Concert for 12 Tractors. There was a small percussion set on stage but most of the time it was the silent witness to Johansson’s vocal dada-dream, swirl-word performance. Johansson’s and Grip’s tonal, bodily, gestural and percussive actions were choreographed in stunning and stimulating ways – a highly sophisticated and entertaining affair.

Solo performances

The contrast between the solo performances of the daring sonic explorer Julien Desprez on one side and the crowd-pleaser Jacob Collier on the other could not be harsher.

Through Jacob Collier’s massive internet presence and flashy live experiences expectations were high. As a consequence there were long queues at the concert hall Verkstedhallen in Trondheim. His performance became a high mass of high-speed multitasking with a concatenation of forced climaxes at the price of losing musical traction – for me a sonic circus lacking real poetics and poetics of the real.

French guitarist Julien Desprez, performing on the last day of the festival in a much smaller venue for a smaller audience, came from a different angle, cutting dangerously deep in his Acapulco Redux performance. Desprez gets you deep into the realms of electronic sound, its dark and light, its violent and gentle sides, its pulsing energies and frightening quietness. As a determined guide he takes you to that realms to let you sense, wonder and make up your own sense. He makes the abstract concrete – all on the basis of strong trust in his guidance.

Julien Desprez

In Desprez’ case it is not sonic floods and fireworks coming down on you from the stage in order to impress you. There is a dramaturgy at work that interconnects sounds, the sound maker, sound-making devices, light and lighting devices in subtle moves and significantly changing configurations. Desprez transgresses the fixed and fossilized constellation of it, breaks it open in subtle way to gain new affecting forces and new ways of channelling intake for the audience. The dramaturgy has been developed in collaboration with choreographer and scenographer Grégory Edelein from Brussels.

Collier vs Deprez is impression vs transgression, pushing up vs guiding, flashiness vs daring, meshing up patches vs cutting, carving and slicing particles of contrast (as a basic element of music). Both are approaches in their own right. Presently, however, I think what Desprez is doing will really lead further.

More electronics

Visually the foursome of Shobaleader One from UK was less overstuffed with drums, cables, pedals. They appeared from the heliocentric lightning dust instead as welders of the second sun.

Shobaleader One is a de-/re-personalized brigade consisting of Squarepusher operating electric bass sounds, Arg Nution sending from electric guitar, Strobe Nazard (it is Dan Nicholls of The Strobes) firing from his keyboard and Company Laser directing thunder and lightning, hail and storm from his drum throne. With their helmets and flickering masks they also look like knights or warriors of volcanic sounds from the inner of the earth.

Whatsoever, as a Wotan force this brigade made ground and bodies tremble, shudder and quake and swept as a blizzard through thousands of moments and physical particles. Tapping into deeper realms of drum ‘n bass, acid house, rock, drones and primordial soup they staged an exhilarating, out-of-into-the-world show.

Commissioned work This year’s commission was for Trondheim vocalist Kirsti Huke. She wrote the work Weaving for a quartet with the two percussionists Erik Nylander and Wetle Holte plus trumpeter Gunnar Halle. Huke, whose voice spans a broad range between gentle lyricism and rock power, has worked in both rock and jazz genres in a number of units. Among her band members and collaborators are drummer Erik Nylander, violinist Ola Kvernberg, saxophonist Tore Brunborg and pianist Vigleik Storås. She was the lead singer of Norwegian experimental metal band 3rd And The Mortal, is a member of well-known vocal ensemble Trondheim Voices and was part of several programs of Trondheim Jazz Orchestra.

The choice for a line-up with two drummers/percussionist and trumpet is quite particular and at the same time indicates which direction the music would head. The pow-wow drumming together with Huke’s singing conjured up scenery of rutting deer in the company of a gentle fairy – a broad range of expressive power. In substance there were catchy tunes with strong vocal climaxes all buttered by and wrapped in cottony layers of electronics.

The musicians, especially Halle, created lots of extra fun with frequent tongue-in-cheek bending and distortion of the sound including Huke sending her voice through the vocoder – a welcome (ex)tension and counterbalance to the straightforward core.

Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (TJO)

TJO has become a proved and well-known unit operating in changing line-ups related to the programmes it his performing and with various collaborators. This year it was the turn of the duo SKRAP, the twosome of pianist Anja Lauvdal and tuba player Heida Karine Johannesdottir Mobeck. They began with a common interest in noise and resistance in music and explored building blocks of popular music. They implement sampling, field recording and small compositions in improvisation. In collaboration with Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, they performed the work Antropocen, which was commissioned by the Molde Jazz Festival in 2015, and was premiered in July 2016.

It was released on an album by the new label Fanfare. It had a massive sound from the doubling of instruments (two vocalists, two tubas, two saxophones, two guitars, two drum sets, etc.). With the incorporation of skeletons and snippets of popular music, with cataracts and falls and the continuous flow of a narrative on nature’s reaction to man’s intervention and exploitation it seemed quite promising.

But in this live performance – other than the video teaser suggests – it was quite disappointing. It became a performance limping on all limbs: a thick brew of dull, stifling and muddy sounds pushed along by two bass drums drowning out everything. Dynamic turns and transitions, clashing, spattering and splitting parts were blotted out by a totally unbalanced sound. The ensemble (with its three sound designers) became buried and muffled by its own forces.

Cranes: part of the industrial heritage in Dokhuset area of Trondheim


In conclusion, springtime in Trondheim is a time of contrasts, contrasts of light, temperature and colour. At the beginning of May the air is full of expectancy and it is the time of confirmation, a rite of passage from childhood to young adult in Norway. It is a massive event, which is visible and makes its presence felt all over town. It is a bit exotic for a visitor from Central/South Europe (for some even shocking) and a confrontation with a different side of the constant shaping of Norwegian identity. Spring is the time.

Categories: miscellaneous

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