The opening day of the AJC’s annual meeting “Les Rencontres AJC” on 2 December 2019 at the new Pan Piper venue in the 11th Arondissement was given over to a series of afternoon presentations giving a panorama of the scene in the five Nordic countries, and an evening of showcase concerts under the heading “Nordic Jazz Comets”.
Panorama of Nordic Jazz
The five individual, state-supported jazz support organisations of each of the Nordic countries presented their activities in turn. As is always the case, some impressions were reinforced and there were also surprises. A moment of strong reinforcement came in a single slide in the Norwegian presentation which showed the sheer scale of central government support for the Norwegian jazz scene: the slide listed various programmes which give over EUR11m per annum, with the speaker stressed that the central government is far from the only source of support. The Norsk Jazz Forum also came equipped with a newly-published and highly informative book about the scene, This is Our Music – Jazz Out of Norway.
The presentation by the Finns was particularly impressive, and for me surprisingly so, not least because it gave remarkably precise answers to the sort of questions one very often ends up asking in vain of music sectors in many countries, namely figures for industry turnover of live and recorded music and of the numbers of active musicians. Finland’s achievement goes beyond the statistical: the country was very well represented in the gatherings, and I would probably give the representatives of jazz the laurel for the obvious levels of passion and enthusiasm which they bring to their work as advocates for the Finnish scene.
The Danish and Swedish presentations gave exemplary demonstrations of one aspect which support organisations can get wrong: both these countries delivered a strong sense that the they have a sensitivity towards, and a mission to support, not just the larger and more visible festivals and promoters, but also the smaller-scale and more homespun that provide the lifeblood of the scene. This is where things have sometimes gone wrong in the UK, where similar networks, admittedly without the luxury of similar levels of core cost funding, have tended to “follow the money” and leave the small-scale promoter and musician-promoted events out of the picture.
The presentation of the tiny Icelandic scene was also there to give everyone a reminder that in smaller communities where particpants’ paths tend to cross every day, everyone really does need to collaborate and get on together. In Reykjavik that is unavoidable. In that process the innate humour of the Icelandic people must also serve them well.
One common feature which came from the presentations by the organisations from the larger Nordic countries is the imperative for the jazz “community” to “speak with one voice” in order to do effective lobbying of government. A good example is Norway, where the Norsk Jazz Forum in fact results from the mid -1990s merger of organisations of two different organisations representing promoters and musicians.
And another feature, of which several speakers noted how proud they were, is the fact that the five Nordic countries have taken to presenting as a unified yet diverse group. This outing is in fact the third. They appeared first in Berlin in 2017, then last year at the London Jazz Festival, and now here in Paris. This also chimes with the theme which Philippe Ochem of AJC and Jazzdor emphasizes in his introduction to the printed programme, that the aim of all of this is to show that there are “ways of defining success that go beyond ticket sales and breaking attendance records,” and which he alluded to in the only phrase of his speech at the opening reception for which he lapsed into French. The principle here is “vivre ensemble.”
The Nordic Comets Showcases
The five presentations were followed by five bands showcasing.
The Røgsignal quartet from Denmark were first up, dominated by the Frisell-ish guitar looping of Nikolaj Bruggem and the echoey Rhodes of Jakob Lauritsen. It found a particular mood which one critic has called “dreamy and unexplainable”, and then somehow seemed to get stuck in it.
More impressive, and also more ‘jazz’ were the Finnish quartet, Kaisa’s Machine, led by the strong, highly musical bass presence of Kaisa Maënsivu. She has won awards in both Pori and Riga, has studied at the Manhattan School of music, and has stayed living in New York. She works in perfect accord with impressive, Finnish, now Vienna-based, drummer drummer Jonatan Sarikoski, and the band with that pairing as its solid foundation negotiated the twists and turns of the tunes with ease. This should be an interesting band to watch as it develops, but the thousands of miles between its members won’t help that process…
The audience appreciated the wanderings of the Icelandic saxophonist Tumi Árnason, playing a lot of processed sounds, and drummer Magnus Trygvasson Eliasson. Árnason thinks in relatively short phrases and above all creates atmospherics, and I wondered what saxophonists like, say Rachel Musson with her acute sensitivity to both timbre and melodic construction, or Evan Parker with his mind-boggling range of acoustic possibilities might have achieved with the same complex equipment and the same simple melodic material.
The Norwegians showed the advantage in a showcase of a band which has toured and recorded extensively and now sounds properly “seasoned.” The trio of Hardanger fiddle player Erlend Apneseth, guitarist Stephan Meidell and drummer Øyvind Hegg Lunde has done three albums and has been touring recently in the Hubro 10th anniversary showed it and their experience showed. This is a totally convincing presentation of folk-inspired music that can also be “earthy” and “rocky.” Drummer Lunde sometimes hitting the ‘three’ repeatedly and emphatically in rock style is just a small part of the story. Apneseth’s range of timbres and effects from wails and different plucking sounds to zipping up and down minor pentatonics to declaiming melodies with pathos is something that can completely occupy the listener’s ears, eyes, mind and heart.
I heard the opening of the last band Fartyg6‘s set. This band were playing arrangements with tricky meters and switchbacks in the arrangements. Singer Matilda Andersson has an appealing and jovial presence, drummer Julia Schabbauer played with impressive accuracy, but all of the players had their sheet music to hand (I think this was the only one of the five bands to do that) and from the short part of their set that I heard, their energies appeared to be focused on finding their way through the complexity of the music, rather than finding a coherent means of expression.
What stays in the mind from this whole day above all is the sense of support, of openness and the deep instinct to find ways of being collaborative and nurturing for the long term that marks out this community of musicians, promoters and support organisations, all bound together by similar ideals.
Categories: Live review