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Nattjazz and Nutshell in Norway

A whirlwind tour of a land where jazz means “no boundaries”

Adam Baldych (left) with Frode Berg, Nattjazz, Bergen, Norway, May 27, 2016
Fieh, Nattjazz, Bergen, Norway, May 27, 2016
Frank Rolland on the Hardanger fiddle, Aksnes Farm, Øystese, Norway, May 26, 2016
Hedvig Mollestad Trio (left to right: Mollestad, Ivar Loe Björnstad, Ellen Brekken), Aksnes Farm, Øystese, Norway, May 26, 2016
Mari Kvien Brunvoll (left) and Stein Urheim, Strangestiftelsen, Bergen, Norway, May 28, 2016
Morten Qvenild, Kabuso, Øystese, Norway, May 26, 2016
Nils Bo Davidsen (left) and Jesper Zeuthen of Carsten Dahl Experience, Nattjazz, Bergen, Norway, May 28, 2016
Sanskriti Shresta, Oddrun Lilja and Marthe Lea (left to right), of Bugge Wesseltoft: New Conception of Jazz—2016 Edition, Nattjazz, Bergen, Norway, May 28, 2016
Spirit in the Dark (left to right: David Wallumrød, Audun Erlien, Anders Engen), Nattjazz, Bergen, Norway, May 26, 2016
Steinar Raknes Quartet (left to right: Erlend Slettevoll, John Pål Inderberg, Håkon Mjåset Johansen, Raknes), USF Verftet, Bergen, Norway, May 25, 2016
Svein Olav Herstad, Troldhaugen, Bergen, Norway, May 27, 2016
The Firebirds (left to right: Anders Banke, Stefan Pasborg, Anders Filipsen), Nattjazz, Bergen, Norway, May 27, 2016

We’re on an operational sheep farm in the Hardanger district of western Norway, but there’s not a bleat to be heard. For their own protection, the animals have been sent off to a pasture far from where 40 jazz journalists and jazz festival presenters from around the world are now milling about, celebratory local bubbly in hand. We’ve just survived a harrowing bus ride up a narrow, twisty mountain road to Aksnes Farm, the home of the family of the trip’s organizer. It is not a place accustomed to hosting live music, and what happens next can only be called surreal.

With a breathtakingly beautiful fjord and picture-perfect snowcapped mountains as backdrop, guitarist Hedvig Mollestad’s trio featuring bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Björnstad sets up in front of a red barn filled with machinery. An instrumental band, they are dexterous, hard and loud, although not nearly as hard and loud as their ’60s and ’70s forebears-adept improvisers, but more Cream than Mahavishnu. There is dissonance and freedom in their approach, and with the arrival of saxophonist Mats Gustafsson shortly into their brief set-one of Norway’s most eminent jazzmen, known for what Wikipedia calls his “tonal belligerence”-things get even hairier. His sublimely, defiantly cacophonous yawping, juxtaposed with the trio’s plodding rockoid thump, is more than a little incongruous in this setting, wicked and surprisingly delicious. Maybe the sheep would’ve dug it; who knows?

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