Jazz fest lures Norway's best
'New fusion' of genre highlights eight-day Portland event
A European flair spices up the Portland Jazz Festival, with three groups from the country of Norway to appear at the seventh annual event.
Norway? Jazz? The combination might not make sense, but artistic director Bill Royston says the Scandanavian country has gone bonkers for the American music.
'This is a new fusion, the melding of jazz and classical,' Royston says. 'You could call it chamber jazz. It's remarkable a country of four (plus) million in northern Europe has grown such a following for jazz.'
The festival goes from Sunday, Feb. 21 to Feb. 28 at various Portland locations. Legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, ex-John Coltrane collaborator, Feb. 28 at the Newmark Theatre, will be one of the highlights, but Royston encourages jazz fans to take in the three Norwegian acts, all at Norse Hall, 111 N.E. 11th Ave.: In The Country, 9:30 p.m. Feb. 26; Trygve Seim and Frode Haltli, 3 p.m. Feb. 27; and Christian Wallumrod Ensemble, 9:30 p.m.
Royston has visited Norway twice, once as guest of the government to evaluate jazz festivals and another time as part of an international delegation at the Kongsberg Jazzfestival in central Norway, where 'the population is probably 25,000 and the first week of July it quadruples with the festival featuring almost all the European artists.'
Royston's take on the three Norway groups in Portland, all three making their North American debut:
• 'In The Country is the closest thing that might be called traditional jazz, with piano, bass and drums. But that's where the tradition stops. They're influenced by American country music and jazz. It's Chet Atkins meets Thelonious Monk.'
• 'Trygve Seim and Frode Haltli are a sax and accordion duo; Frode is considered one of the greatest accordion players in the world. It's a very unusual performance. You have to see it to understand it. Once you see it, it's mesmerizing.'
• 'Christian Wallumrod is a masterful pianist, maybe the greatest nobody in America has heard of. This was an ensemble I saw two years ago that knocked my socks off - trumpet, drums, baroque harp, violin and cello. It's the most adventurous of the three.'
Royston says Norway saw an influx of African-American musicians after World War II, and the country now has three generations of jazz artists.
He adds that European jazz artists blend classical and jazz, focusing on acoustics and folk instruments like the accordion and bassoon, and 'musically they can reach a balance between old world music and new world improvisation.'
The festival starts Feb. 21 with free shows and jazz outreach. Headliner tickets are available at the PDX Jazz box office, 133 S.W. Second Ave., Suite 420, or Ticketmaster outlets. For more information, go to www.pdxjazz.com.