Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic

Norwegian Woods


ACT Music has released the second live recording from its Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic concert series, re-establishing a tradition begun by American jazz impresario Norman Granz.  Norwegian Woods brings together some of the finest Norwegian jazz musicians including pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, singer Solveig Slettahjell, guitarist Knut Reiersrud and cutting edge piano trio In The Country, in a unique collaboration featuring interpretations of traditional Nordic music, John Hiatt and Tom Waits.

A blues guitar introduces Norwegian Woods, restrained, elegiac and yet full of energy. A clear, female voice takes over, its power potentiated by its uncanny serenity. A piano gathers together the theme one more time before all of them, joined by an additional trio, take it through a mightily dynamic loop until it tapers out to almost nothing in the end.

Ingen Vinner Frem Til Den Evige Ro is the name of the old Norwegian church song that Knut Reiersrud, Solveig Slettahjell and In The Country transform so fascinatingly into a modern Nordic hymn in the Chamber Music Hall of the Berlin Philharmonic.

It was another one of those magic moments that the Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic series so reliably produces. Founded in 2012 and curated by Siggi Loch, the idea was to craft inimitable evenings by means of thematic concentration, but most of all with stirring, often first-time encounters between outstanding musicians. And so it was on the fourth evening documented on this recording, which went under the heading of Norwegian Woods.

This concert demonstrated the reasons for the almost mystical success of Norwegian jazz not only in the aforementioned introduction, but also, for example, in the contemplation of its roots in Norwegian folk and classical music.

That Norway was quite simply too far off the beaten track for touring American jazz musicians seventy years ago helped it develop its own vocabulary – the “Nordic sound” made popular by Jan Garbarek et al  – and that sound today is part of the DNA of Norwegian jazz, whether through the multi-stylistic electronic pioneer Bugge Wesseltoft, Solveig Slettahjell, or by young guns like Morten Qvenild.

It is a sound that is inconceivable without an almost unconditional openness to influences of all kinds: in the none-too-large Norwegian music scene, jazzers have no qualms about working together with classical musicians and colleagues from the world of pop and rock, which leads to compelling outcomes, such as those of the JABP tryst of the blues musician Knut Reiersrud and various jazz icons, be they in the adapted traditional, Nordic-expanse-breathing Sæterjentens Søndag or in surprising interpretations like Tom Waits’ Take it With Me.

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