1.5.3 The field of modern jazz

I see myself as a part of the modern Norwegian /European jazz scene. When I “discovered” this scene in the early 90s, it was through the music of artists such as Jan Garbarek, Sidsel Endresen, Radka Toneff, Nils Petter Molvær, Jon Balke/Jøkleba, Elin Rosseland and Bugge Wesseltoft among others, and not least during the following years through a lot of my fellow students at the Conservatory in Trondheim at that time: Eldbjørg Raknes, Arve Henriksen, Christian Wallumrød, Ståle Storløkken, Trygve Seim and others. I literally fell in with  a bunch of extremely creative musicians during a period when a lot of new things were happening in Trondheim. So, looking back, I am trying to see how this has influenced my development as a musician. It is also natural, to some degree, to try to understand how the modern Norwegian jazz scene that I experienced in the 90s, is reflecting important developments in the history of jazz, improvisation and music. This history has many versions, depending on who is looking and listening. It also has, for each musician and music listener, an individual version, based on personal experiences along the way. Instead of trying to create an objective, general overview of the historical lines in this very diverse picture, it seems more fruitful to start with my own peak experiences and trace some musical connections from there.

For me, there is a link between three very important vocalists: Billy Holiday, Joni Mitchell and Sidsel Endresen. They are very different stylistically, but what strikes me is their free and distinct approach to rhythmic and melodic phrasing, that often makes me think that they are not actually singing a composition, but interpreting it freely, creating it anew with great liberty and originality. They are not “fulfilling clichés”, but rather creating their own stylistic language. A similar freedom is also clearly present in the work of Karin Krog, who is certainly also a very important member of the modern Norwegian jazz scene. I can of course find an even more virtuoso, although different freedom in the work of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, not to mention the inventiveness and more experimental approach that Betty Carter represents. And Chet Baker’s elegant phrasing resembles for me ‘the Billy Holiday approach’, but in a smoother, more distanced way. The kind of “instrumental freedom” that these singers represent to me is still based on a rather strict stylistic language and framework. These latter singers were therefore important for me as an introduction to harmonic improvisation, but though inspiring and impressing, they were not as relevant for me as I moved on to other musical approaches.

There is also an obvious link between Miles Davis’s genre-crossing works and his minimalistic and sound-oriented approach on his instrument, to the works of Nils Petter Molvær, Arve Henriksen and Trygve Seim. They are all musicians who have inspired me because of their focus on sound, both acoustic and (in the case of Molvær and Henriksen) electronic, and also because of their play with genres.

What really attracted me when meeting the modern jazz scene in the 90s was the collective approach displayed by some of the improvising ensembles I was listening to, especially Jøkleba (Ouvertyre Jøkleba! Live! Curling Legs 1996) and Veslefrekk. (Rundgang, Veslefrekk NorCD 1994). Moving away from the defined roles of soloist and accompaniment, from the distinction between improvised parts and composed parts, and from chord-progression as a static, defined form, the music became very open for what happened in the interplay. Each musician could take an improvised initiative at all times, and various musical ideas could be played out simultaneously without being in conflict, creating several layers and unpredictable developments. Musically, both these bands related somewhat to the mix of jazz, rock, traditional music and pop which was introduced in the 70s by Weather Report/Joseph Zawinul and Miles Davis among others, but at the same time with a freedom inspired by the movements of free jazz, modal jazz and the ‘open form’/ Fluxus movement in experimental music.


I have experienced the same approach to improvisation, by opening and confronting traditional musical forms, structures and roles, ranging from musicians like pianist Paul Bley and the Svein Finnerud Trio to Christian Wallumrød‘s Close Erase.(Who Grew Too (What) Close Erase No 2 Nor CD 1999) One of my important concert experiences involved the latter two trios, sharing a concert at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival in 1997. Looking back, I can see that this meeting with the modern jazz scene at that particular time in history had a deep impact on me, later shown through four important lines of development in my own work:


-The collective approach to improvisation

-The freedom in melodic variation and rhythmic phrasing

-The focus on sound and timbre as musical parameters

-The openness towards different expressions and genres



Vocalists in modern jazz

Since the 90s (and even before that), it has been difficult to define  ‘jazz’ since it has become mixed with expressions from other genres, especially electronica, pop and rock, but also traditional music, contemporary music and noise. So once again, it would be most interesting to look at what has had the strongest impact on me during these years. I will do this by starting with the vocalists.


Sidsel Endresen has always been an important singer for me, although she does not use live electronics. Her “speech-song”  on Epilogue  (Duplex Ride with Bugge Wesseltoft, Curling Legs,1998) shows very clearly how new vocal expressions can be an integrated, organic part of works that use more traditional musical elements, and thereby create new music. Going from being a pop/soul singer in the 80s, and gradually working towards an increasingly more experimental expression, Sidsel has always seemed to be deeply rooted in genuine and worked-through individual aesthetics – and she is constantly developing her expression further, one step at the time. Her combination of having a very personal vocabulary of vocal “sound sculpting” and her deep sense of rhythm, melodic phrasing and not at least musical dramaturgy, puts her in a special position for me as an improvising vocalist. Over the years she has moved increasingly towards a more experimental expression, this can be heard on Merrywinkle (Jazzland Recording, 2004, with Christian Wallumrød/Helge Steen:  Wobber ), her Solo album One (Sofa Music, 2006) and her live recordings with Humcrush, (Rune Grammofon, 2011: Ha! :Ha ! 1  )

Elin Rosseland was among the first Norwegian singers I heard using electronics live. Her record with the band Fairplay (Fairplay, Odin Records, 1989: Sound Around) was a combination of pop, jazz and contemporary music that I had never heard before. Compared to Sidsel she has, in my opinion, had a more “composing approach “ in her work, she is also experimenting and improvising, but with a very different expression. (Elin Rosseland Trio: Trio, NorDC 2007: Alenen). She is a master of advanced harmonic developments, both as a composer and as an improviser. Her compositions are sometimes very complex, but often with very clear original melodic lines. (Moment, with Rob Waring and Johannes Eich, NorCD 2004: And all the different voices.)

Eldbjørg Raknes has been an important inspiration for me through the years in several ways. In her different musical projects, she has often combined lyrics from poetry with a very original musical approach, sometimes very free and improvised, sometimes composed and arranged, with influences from jazz, soul, pop and rock, but also experimental and traditional music. Both in her solo work, like in this example Againgain from Solo (MYrecordings, 2006) and with her various ensembles, like here with Stian Westerhus and Eirik Heggdal: Like Lighter on From frozen feet heat came (MYrecordings, 2008), she has integrated live electronics as a part of her musical expression, often with a clear focus on sound as an important musical parameter.


The modern Norwegian jazz scene, newer influences

The modern Norwegian jazz scene includes several artists and groups that incorporate elements from the pop/rock/electronica of our time in their improvised music; Nils Petter Molvær, Susanna Wallumrød and Bugge Wesseltoft, and bands like Wibutee, Puma, Shining and Pelbo. When the aforementioned trio Veslefrekk included sound-artist Helge Steen (“Deathprod”) in their group, renaming the band Supersilent, this represented a natural move towards incorporating the expression of noise and electronica in their improvised musical scenery (Le Jazz Non, Smalltown Supersound 2000: C-2.1) Different types of pop/rock have, among other things, influenced my trio, BOL. This is most obvious on our second CD Silver Sun  (Curling Legs, 2005: Calling to myself).

Other obvious influences in our time are those of the American free jazz and the European contemporary Improv and Experimental music. This more open and sound-oriented approach is often combined with different strategies for improvisation, sometimes in combination with different types of composed material. Examples are the Norwegian duo Vertex, ( shapes & phases, SOFA 2010: Morphometrics)  and  Eirik Heggdal’s En, en, en,  (Rød &Blå, Øra fonogram 2010: B9. The improv ensemble Lemur, is mainly influenced by contemporary music, European Fluxus and ‘open form’, but also free jazz. ( Aigéan , Job Records 2010: Panthalassa)

Further, moving outside jazz-related improvisation, the link between electroacoustic music, improvisation and noise is obvious in Maja Ratkje’s SPUNK ( Den øverste toppen på en blåmalt flaggstang, Rune Grammofon 2002:  Moeff (Møff”))  and Fe-mail. (Money will ruin everything, Rune Grammofon 2003: Jacobs Leketoy (“Jacobs Leketøy” )) The use of live electronics as such has expanded greatly among musicians, and naturally brought in, to different degrees, elements from the genres that these instruments and devices have been developed for/within; rock, pop and electroacoustic music.

Performers as Thomas Strønen , Eldbjørg Raknes  and Maja Ratkje, are examples of Norwegian improvising performers that I relate to, all using live electronics to create very different musical expressions, and they are still somewhat connected through the genre-crossing field of improvised music.

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