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Portland Jazz Festival

A great Northwestern fest nods to the Land of the Midnight Sun

Craig Handy performing with Mingus Big Band at Portland Jazz Festival
Christian Wallumrod performing at Portland Jazz Festival

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.

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