It’s been five years since British jazz critic Stuart Nicholson churned up the journalistic waters with his provocative book, Is Jazz Dead? (Or Has It Moved to a New Address). Hugely controversial amongst the jazz cognoscenti and widely panned by his peers in the U.S., Nicholson’s book was both a scathing indictment of what he saw as the hidebound state of American music and a celebration of innovative new jazz being made in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia.
Now that the furor has ended, the organizers of this year’s Portland Jazz Festival found both inspiration and a rallying cry in Nicholson’s theme, roundly refuting the book’s first thesis even as they endorsed the second over a week of concerts spread across the city. In the festival’s climactic weekend (Feb. 26-28), three acts from the vanguard of Norway’s rich scene shared top billing with more familiar stars, creating an effective mix of the comfortable and the cutting edge.