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A week and a half ago I was in Bergen, Norway, checking out the NattJazz Festival, but after I my first post I didn't manage to find the time to blog again. Fortunately I did take notes, so I can belatedly pass along a few highlights--there's a lot of exciting Norwegian music that never makes it to our neck of the woods, at least not live.
One group at NattJazz that actually has played Chicago was OffOnOff (pictured), a power-improv trio with Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. I passed on their Hideout show in May because I figured I'd see them in Bergen. Now I wish I'd caught both gigs, because they totally killed it at the festival.
You can't call Nilssen-Love a secret weapon, because his genius is so obvious; he constantly pushed the music forward, changing up grooves and sidestepping between fractured patterns without once losing the flow. The true surprise was Terrie Hessels of the Ex, a self-taught guitarist who's learned to manipulate his anti-technique to create a compelling lead voice.
A few months back I blogged about some recent recordings by Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten, a former Chicagoan who's relocating to Austin, Texas. On Play Complete Communion (Bolage) he joins saxophonist Atle Nymo and drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen, both of the group Motif, to perform the two suites that make up the classic Don Cherry album Complete Communion. The trio has since become a quartet with the addition of superb Swedish trumpeter Magnus Broo, who also works with Haaker Flaten in Atomic. They're called IPA now, and on their fine new album, Lorena, they've made the switch to original material. The interplay between Broo and Nymo is particularly impressive, and the rhythm section burrows deeply into the hard-swinging grooves.
The Norwegian pianist Haavard Wiik--another member of Atomic and a collaborator with Ken Vandermark in the trio Free Fall--played two very different sets at NattJazz. With his fine trio--bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Mjåset Johansen--he concentrated on the elegant, rhythmically rigorous tunes on his album The Arcades Project (Jazzland), and later that same evening he played a sprawling free-improv set with bassist Per Zanussi, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, and trumpeter Axel Dörner.
I also heard lovely music from Sweden's Bobo Stenson and Norway's Arve Henriksen; the other knockout set came from violinist Ola Kvernberg's trio with bassist Steinar Raknes and drummer Erik Nylander, joined by percussionist Børge Fjordheim. On his own Kvernberg opts for a sound much more spacious than the one I'd heard him use in Haaker Flaten's Chicago quintet--he lets the rhythm section build a foundation for dynamic improvisations equally invested in harmonic exploration and metric variation.
Wiik and Broo will be in town in a couple of weeks to participate in a live recording project with the Vandermark 5, which they'll transform into the Vandermark 7 on June 19 and 20 at the Green Mill.