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Jazz Nordic Style at Vossa Jazz Festival

Josef Woodard reviews jazz festival held in Vossa, Norway, on April 15-17, 2011

Tomasz Stanko

Generally, the densely-packed weekend of the annual Vossa Jazz manages to strike a happy balance of internationalism in its programming, mixing in a few American acts with an agenda mostly focused on Scandinavian jazz and European artists. One of the wonderful small, specialist jazz festivals “across” the Atlantic, and held in the lovely lakeside town of Voss (90 minutes from Bergen), Vossa Jazz has earned its status as a fine place for checking the pulse and ever-shifting landscape of Norwegian jazz (including many artists popularized outside of Norway through ECM records titles) and beyond.

This year’s already American jazz-lean balance was tipped further askew with the last-minute cancellation of festival opener Overtone Quartet (Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Eric Harland, Jason Moran). Holland’s wife was critically ill, inspiring well wishes and thoughts and prayers all around. But the silver lining in this case, navigated through a few well-placed phone calls and cooperative spirits, was the surprise reunion of a once-classic Norwegian trio, Jøkleba, making its first public appearance since disbanding in 2003. Keyboardist Jon Balke, trumpeter Per Jorgensen and percussionist Audun Kleive gathered before a sold-out house in the large Vossasalen ballroom venue of the festival’s centralized Park Hotel. The threesome played with a palpable interconnectedness and easy conversational flow, attesting to their strong former alliance: it was like they never left.

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