NattJazz@Bergen – Joshua Redman, Jenny Hval and …. Cornershop
The highlight of day one (and some might even have said of the festival) was one of the earliest acts to take to a stage in Natt Jazz. The name James Farm might not mean a huge amount to most people, but this is a band with breadth and depth in spades, led by Joshua Redman, who is setting himself up as one of the finest saxophonists of his generation.
This was slick and classy affair. There’s a lot of free and experimental jazz at NattJazz, and this band’s crafted, accessible songwriting is a strong contrast to some of the more out there sounds in Bergen. I have heard some people question Redman’s tone, but when he opens it up there are few that are better in the business. He takes an almost boxer’s stance at the mic, pulling and popping his frame as he jabs notes out, percussive slaps punctuating his complex, creative rhythmic approach to his instrument. Then the band will turn it on the head and go for more ballad-like numbers while Redman draws long, slow mournful notes out of the bell of his horn, providing entire fields of colour and breaking hearts all around the room.
It’s no harm that Redman is just one cog in what is something of a jazz supergroup. Aaron Parks might be only 27 but his piano lines are sparkling, complicated affairs, full of drama and gravitas, and with a decent bolt of bluesy-ness when the band around him decide to start to cooking it a little. Matt Penman pins things together with subtle bass grooves that create plenty of space for Eric Harland to exploit. Harland is a bewildering drummer to watch, and leaves audience members wondering what he is doing and how he is doing it. His techniques and ability are astonishing, and he almost threatens to steal the show out from under Redman. With this band’s ability at full throttle, the show is irresistible.
If you like your jazz free and as unpredictable as the Irish weather, the Scorch Trio should singe your hair nicely. It’s a multinational group of scarily talented musicians who improvise with not thought for borders, recklessly hammering out lines and chasing down grooves in a wall of noise that can be difficult to get your head around. It’s terrifically energetic and off the wall, and as if the combined weight of Raoul Björkenheim on guitar, Ingebrikt Håker Flaten on (I’m assuming atomic-powered) bass and Chicagoan Frank Rosaly on drums wasn’t enough, here they’ve thrown saxophone player Mars Williams into the cacophonic mix. A dynamic mix for those who like their music at the more off-kilter end of the jazz spectrum.
The NattJazz festival throws in the odd mainstream act to widen the palette of the festival, from UK act Cornershop (yes, that irritating Brim Full of Asha nonsense) and local pop act Kakkmaddafakka. Jenny Hval is not exactly mainstream, but she is definitely at a remove from much of the jazz acts here. Her music is austere, making easy comparisons with the likes of Anna Calvi and Jennifer Evans. She enjoyed a lot of mainstream success in Norway in an earlier guise as Rockettothesky, and now she has taken a departure for more singular pastures. It’s poetic and challenging, but there might not be enough here to draw the casual listener in. Her music definitely sounds as if it would flourish if you give it the time to take root. The songs are intriguing, her vocal is definitely on the outside edge, and there is a very unified, textural sound between Hval, guitarist Håvard volden and drummer Kyrre Laastad.
Live, though, her bare-bones approach with the stage and line-up could do with a little polish and more urgency, and this is a set that requires a bit of investment from the audience.