Molde Jazz Festival has been around for a while, since 1961 to be precise, but at the grand old age of 53 it still acts like a spunky teenager.
The 2014 edition of the festival took place in the delightful seaside Norwegian town of Molde from July 14 to July 19 and covered an impressively wide range of acts and mindsets. The vast majority of bands came from the host country and offered plenty of evidence that the Norwegian community is alive and kicking, and putting out some exciting stuff.
The star of the proceedings was this year’s artist-in-residence, 62-year-old vocalist Sidsel Endressen, who put in several appearances during the course of the six-day program with various lineups. While she is generally categorized as a jazz singer, in truth her creative exploits spread far and wide, way past any clean-cut genre boundaries. Her gig with a young sextet was a trip and a half. It was the essence of on-the-spot creation, with Endressen launching into an engaging ebb-and-flow venture with her junior instrumentalist accompanists. Chief among the latter was pianist Christian Wallumrod, who has been doing service with the vocalist for some years.
Endressen is a singular performer, best described as something along the lines of a “vocal artist” rather than a pure singer. Watching her perform is like taking a roller-coaster ride as she spits out gibberish expletives betwixt more lyrical passages, always keeping at least one ear tuned to what her instrumentalists are feeding back to her. She cuts a mesmerizing figure as she goes through a long and winding spectrum of facial expressions and dynamic hand gestures.
There is an aura of the ancient storyteller about Endressen and she spun out a fascinating tale, which was fully comprehensible to the audience, lack of real “intelligible” words notwithstanding. Her confluence with the Merrwinkle threesome of Wallumrod, on computer- enhanced grand piano, and Helge Sten on assorted electronics was equally fascinating.
Other standouts in the Norwegian lineup included tuba player Lars Andreas Haug’s Tubat sextet who also played a weird and wacky self-designed contraption called the tubmarine, which looks like a sawn-off tuba with an exhaust pipe. The band, which included Steffen Schorn on the rarely used gargantuan contra alto clarinet, singer Camilla Susann Haug and accordionist Frode Haltli flitted between straightahead jazz and Balkan melodies, with plenty of groove and surprising departures in the mix too.
Veteran American trumpeter Tom Harrell proffered his usual singular sound, although his concert – with two sax players, two acoustic bass players and a drummer – was a bit low on energy and, in truth, it was a bit strange hearing jazz from the art form’s homeland among all the Scandinavian stuff.
There were also plenty of high-energy forays, particularly by Swedish Azz, and Kristoffer Lo and the Trondheim Jazzorkester.