Vossa Jazz XL: Voss, Norway, March 22-24, 2013
Published: April 10, 2013
Vossa Jazz’s final day started early (11:30am) and ended early (10:30pm, leaving plenty of time to hit the overnight train to Oslo, the first leg of a long trip back home to Canada), but amongst a number of these fine shows, two must-sees stood out.
Sinikka Langeland has been on the Norwegian scene for many years, releasing a number of fine recordings in Norway, based on either folk or classical traditions; but it was with the release of the sublime Starflowers (ECM, 2007) that she finally showed up on the international radar. The singer and kantele player—a plucked member of the dulcimer/zither family—has been exploring the music of Norway dating back to mediaeval times through to Norwegian folk hymns and Bach chorales since Langt Innpå Skoga (Grappa, 1994),but it was with Runoja (Heilo/Grappa, 2002) that, with the recruitment of trumpeter Arve Henriksen, she began to form the group that would eventually coalesce with Starflowers and continue with The Land That Is Not (ECM, 2011), an ensemble also featuring saxophonist Trygve Seim, bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Markky Ounaskari.
Henriksen was not available for Langeland’s Sunday afternoon performance at Osasalen, another venue situated a short five-minute walk from the Park Hotel, but while it would be difficult to ever say the trumpeter’s presence wasn’t missed, the remaining quartet certainly sounded no less complete without him; the only thing the group missed, during its early afternoon show, was the inevitable interaction between Henriksen and Seim, but in a show that drew heavily from her two ECM group recordings, the saxophonist simply assumed a more central role. Still, as a player whose interest in improvisation is one that eschews meaningless demonstrations of virtuosity—and as one of Norway’s most important composers to emerge post-Balke on albums like Different Rivers (ECM, 2001) and Sangam (ECM, 2005)—Seim played with characteristic restraint, his tone on tenor and curved soprano as inimitable as ever, his curious ability to bend notes and play microtonally the result of significant time spent studying in the Middle East, and his strength in evoking melodies redolent of his country’s tradition as unmistakable as always.
Jormin—perhaps better known for past tenures with American saxophonist Charles Lloyd and Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko, and his ongoing partnership in pianist Bobo Stenson‘s trio—may have been at a disadvantage, with his bass lost in transit and performing on a borrowed instrument, but if he was working any harder to achieve his characteristic singing tone, nobody could have noticed. Ounasakari—who has certainly been getting around since he recorded >Kuára: Psalms and Folk Songs, also appearing in the Fugara (DNL, 2012) quartet, with pianistStevko Busch, trumpeter Markus Stockhausen and saxophonist Paul Van Kemenade and, earlier in the naughties, Brutto Gusto (Challenge, 2003), with Dutch trumpeter Eric Vloeimans—was his characteristically sensitive self; capable of delicately moving the pulse forward with the gentlest of cymbal work but equally able to imbue the music with more power and drive when required.
But as superb as the entire group was, it was hard pull attention away from Langeland. Her playing on the kantele was a revelation; her singing a perfect combination of vulnerability and effortless power. The kantele is a much broader instrument, when it comes to range, than it might appear in photos, and Langeland’s mastery of the instrument was even more impressive live than her recorded performances suggest. Combined with Jormin’s soaring tone, Ounaskari’s textural intuition and Seim’s unfailingly perfect choices, it made for an afternoon performance evocative of sweeping images of barren landscapes and almost painful beauty—one that will not soon be forgotten.