ON the Beat | Season’s Gradings, and Sheepish Eats
Santa Barbara’s “Serious” Concert Season Eases into the Final Stretch, the Columnist/Jazz Festival Freak Gets Sheepish in Norway
This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on April 6, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
Norwegian Woodard Time
(Soundtrack for this column: Nils Petter Molvaer, Khmer here)
Early springtime, for this seemingly hopeless jazz festival junkie, means Voss time. I’ve been in the happy habit of traveling to this lovely small town an hour north of Bergen, Norway for the dense weekend of mostly Norwegian/Scandinavian jazz that is Vossa Jazz since the late ‘00s.
To do the math in another way, that tenure adds up to 14 sheep’s heads. Some explanation is required.
Each year, following the unveiling of a new commission work — the Tingingsverket — the festival invites a select group to celebrate the musicians involved with the regional smalahove dinner, common in the rustic agrarian Hardanger region of which Voss is a part. Each diner is presented with half a boiled sheepshead on their plate, eyeball and all. Carnivores can satisfy their moral imperative to respect the animal sacrificed for our dining pleasure by consuming as much of the animal as possible. There are added attractions to the smalahove — an exotic epicurean experience, a surprisingly tasty dish and the saucy Scandinavian liquor aquavit to wash it down.
Last week, the dinner party seemed in a good mood, having just come from the musically savory, freshly-baked goods by the fine young guitarist/composer Oddrun Lilja. Her appealing and subtly innovative multi-song tapestry was stitched from a hybrid of jazz — shades of Gábor Szabó, MJQ and others — quirky pop, and Nordic-folk. Touche.
As a fitting opening for what was Vossa Jazz’ 50th birthday bash, the opening concert celebrated what is probably the most internationally famous of the Tingingsverket works, Nils Petter Molvaer’s bewitching electro-cosmic-jazz classic Khmer. Originally called Labyrinter, the piece by this unique trumpeter and plugged-in conjurer premiered in Voss in 1996, and was released as a double-disc project Khmer on the ECM label in 1998. Khmer virtually launched a fresh and hypnotic offspring of fusion, less concerned with pyrotechnics and rock bluster than spacious introspection amidst trancey grooves. The magic, enhanced by higher digital tech highs than available means in 1996, has weathered time beautifully, as heard live and retooled in Voss last week.
Elsewhere on last weekend’s packed calendar, the legendary alliance between traditional folk roots and jazz in Norway found a profound expression in a set by entrancing folk singer Sinikka Langeland, joined by the celebrated likes of saxophonist Trygve Seim and trumpeter Mathias Eick, both of whom have done important work with ECM Records. (Eick, incidentally, played a strong role on last year’s ECM debut by the Santa Barbara–bred pianist Benjamin “everyone knows him as Benny” Lackner). Veteran bassist (and another with strong ECM links) Arild Andersen did the historical honors of reprising his own commissioned work from 1990, Sagn, an early example of the Norwegian folk-jazz pact.
By contrast, we got a potent midnight blast of punk/headbanger jazz from The End (featuring fire-breathing bari saxist Mats Gustafsson) to clear the mental sinuses and some sternum-rattling avant-Roma music from the mutant ensemble Angrusoi, featuring Iva Bittová. Paal Nilssen-Love’s visceral-brainy Large Unit channeled African energies with its EthioBraz project and, hey, wasn’t that Martha Wainwright as charmingly powerful and rough-edged chanteuse in the antique setting of downtown Voss’s 12th century church, the Vang kyrka? Sure enough, and sounding as strong as ever in her middle age.
Vossa Jazz @ 50 soothed, rattled and dreamt, in a Norwegian way.
Concert Season Update
In the process of tracking Santa Barbara’s current September-to-May “serious” concert season, we noticed that certain formidable local organizations turned toward the light side in March. The Santa Barbara Symphony turned the Granada into a movie music palace with its John Williams program, while Opera Santa Barbara went the way of musical theater — albeit the wholly impressive stuff of Adam Guetell’s Light in the Piazza at Center Stage. Santa Barbara Master Chorale, basking in its grand 75th anniversary season, turned its spotlight over to a fundraising concert with the Florida-based Voctave, prone to spinning choral magic from Disney’s world and other pop cultural fare.
Alas, rounding the corner into April and the final several weeks of our 2022-23 season, the going gets serious again. The Symphony is leaning heavily into Beethoven-mania, in collaboration with Ensemble Theater, April 15 and 16, and Opera Santa Barbara takes another trip to the colossus of Wagner’s Ring cycle, ushering the abridged The Valkyrie (the opera, not the Valhalla delivery angels) into the Lobero on April 23. On May 6 and 7 the Master Chorale gets serious on the subject of its “Mozart to Modern” program, with Mozart’s Requiem and contemporary composer, in its season-closing concert at First Presbyterian Church.
On the calendar gazing front, non-pop division, other noteworthy highlights demand the attention of music lovers in these parts in April. Camerata Pacifica presents a newly-commissioned world premiere Horn Trio by Libby Larsen, on April 21 at Hahn Hall, and UCSB Arts & Lectures livens up Campbell Hall, with the loveable Danish String Quartet on April 13, Sō Percussion with composer/vocalist Carolyn Shaw on April 21, and all-female jazz group ARTEMIS on April 23. CAMA’s Masterseries bring the welcome return of sublime violinist Augustin Hadelich, at the Lobero on April 24. Listen up.
As a kid first hearing and being infected by songs by the group responsible for “Sarah Smile,” “Your Kiss on My List” and countless other pop radio hits, I first thought it was strange to name a band Holland Oats. Very quickly, though, it became clear that Daryl Hall and John Oates were distinctly different people, meeting in the middle of a classic soul-colored pop sound. Hall was the guy with the big and limber voice, and seemingly the more adventurous sort, whose fascinating 1980 album Sacred Songs found him in cahoots with the art-rocky likes of Robert Fripp. No hits were involved with that one.
Oates, on the other hand, was a bit more mysterious and secondary in the partnership, but he has established his own respectable post-pop stardom musical persona, which we’ll catch wind and sound of at the Lobero on April 13. He brings a cooler-headed and softer-voiced Philly soul touch to his work, as well as an earthier, American-esque subplot, as heard on his 2018 album Arkansas.
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