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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 28, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

    NattJazz@Bergen: The Deciders, CakeWalk and rising star Jarle Bernhoft

    Laurence Mackin

    Konigsberg had a last-minute name change at NattJazz festival to the Deciders, but the original line up of Ole Morten Vågan on double bass, Fredrik Ljungkvist on saxophone, Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet, Axel Dörner on trumpet and Jon Fält on trumpet seemed to be intact. This type of anarchy seems par for the course for this band. A big, blowsy outfit with plenty of chops and energy in spades, they built a rollicking set in the boozy atmosphere of the Sardinia bar on Friday evening. If one player made a mistake, the rest would dissolve into fits of laughter before picking it up and blasting along with the song, their three-brass-pronged attack making the room rattle and roll, while Ole Morten Vagan tore around the low end with some gloriosuly savage bass playing.

    Jazz attracts a peculiarly respectful crowd, but not at NattJazz. People talk loudly at shows, many will argue with what’s going down on stage, and will shuffle into and out of concerts during songs, and even, shock horror, during solos. It’s a challenging gig for performers, but it also puts it up to them to bring enough energy to the room so that everyone knows who is in charge. The Deciders had no problems bossing the souped-up crowd around, though, and got a fairly thunderous boon of applause in response.

    Just as loud in places but with a very different set-up were Cakewalk, a three-piece band of guitar, drums and keys that produce music that bounces between stripped-back instrumentals and muscled-up post rock. The band build up their songs layer by layer, with relentless impetuousness and a slow and steady approach to songwriting. This is well-covered ground, where you usually find the likes Godspeed You Black Emperor and earlier krautrock acts grazing. It might take its time to get there, but the riptide of deep, intense grooves is hard to pull yourself out of, and when it the wave of noise breaks from the stage and crashes inelegantly into the venue it’s very satisfying indeed.

    Jarle Bernhoft was one of the most anticipated acts at NattJazz, so much so that for the first time this week there were huge queues and a bit of a crush to get into his show. Once you wrestled your way in it was easy to see why. The Norwegian has a deep, soulful voice, drenched in Motown with tones of Bill Withers, married to a more contemporary pop-writing sensibility that should see him enjoy enormous success in the next few years.

    Part of the charm of the show is how he makes the music. Bernhoft sings supporting backing vocal lines into a loop station pedal, and lets that wind around while thrumming out a funky beat on the back of an acoustic guitar before adding a rhythmic guitar line, layering and layering until the sound of a full band is booming through the PA. Then he unleashes the salvo of his full bore soul vocal and the result generally means that resistance is futile.

    For those who have seen the likes of Owen Pallett of Final Fantasy in action, this is not a new concept. Bernhoft carries it off with style and charm, and his acute rhythmic awareness, with pops and beats that Stevie Wonder would be satisfied with, mean the songs shiver and shake in all the right places and even though it’s one man on stage he manages to cook up a funk pop storm.

    The question is where does he go from here? Expect Bernhoft to make a big European impression, and indeed the booking agents were climbing over each other to talk to him after the show. The obvious route to develop this music would be to employ a full band, but apparently he has already tried this with limited success. For the moment, though, he can expect a lucrative few years building a wider fan base and making his extraordinary voice and inventive live show work very hard for him indeed.

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