“Extended jazz” is a term used to describe a wide variety of musical expressions. It can be either acoustic, electric, electronic, or all three at once, but it best describes a particular musical ethos that’s prevalent in Norway.
Starting in the ’60s with George Russell feeding Jan Garbarek and his jazz peers — followed up by the electronic scene in the ’90s and the newer generations — Norwegian musicians operating in extended jazz often share the fact that they are open to experimentation, improvisation, and blending of genres. Being a country larger than Germany in area, but having only 6.4% of its population, causes a sort of “Icelandic” effect on the music scene. A person rarely does “just one thing” for a living, but rather a pretty diverse range of work.
Most of the artists listed here will probably know of each other, across ages and disciplines. Jazz-educated people make up a significant part of pop radio’s backend, reflecting both that traditional jazz isn’t an obligatory study path and that the torch of jazz today (and perhaps permanently) has also been about reimagining and transmuting itself.
With this selection, we’ll try to give you a varied selection of different offerings from this “genre”….
NILS PETER MOLVÆR – TLØN (ECM, 1997)
A great example — sort of the starting point — of blending electronics and jazz, at least through a broader audience on the legendary jazz label ECM. In many ways, ECM is the highway of Norway’s placement on the international jazz zodiac. Now sharing their complete catalog on the streaming platforms makes for a deep dive into the seeds, roots, and stems for the whole world of extended jazz.
HELGA MYHR – NU RINNER FREM EN DEILIG SOMMER (MOTVIND, 2019)
Helga Myhr is an integral part of the new generation of folk performers, moving freely through traditional, post-modern, and prehistoric dimensions. Her first outing as a solo artist won a Norwegian Grammy and shined a well-deserved light on this timeless music and the vital work of Motvind Records.
The goal of their Motvind Kulturlag guild is to present a broad spectrum of cultural expressions through different channels. They also focus on the fact that the Norwegian music scene is being invaded by corporations like Kongsberg Gruppen, Nammo, and Equinor. This is highly problematic because weapon, ammunition, and oil companies are sponsoring the arts to gain goodwill in the people, and at the same time, operating in some of the least sustainable businesses on the planet. Despite this focus on such bad cases, they are first and foremost pro-peace, pro-freedom, and pro-quality music.
AUDUN KLEIVE & JAN BANG – AZMARI WOMAN (GRÅTONE, 2017)
Punkt Festival organizer / live sampling originator Jan Bang together with Audun Kleive, live remixing the Ethiopian singer Etenesh Wassie. It sounds and looks like what live musicians should be doing a couple hundred years from now. Maybe even on a different planet.
NAKAMA – MA (NAKAMA, 2021)
First drop from the upcoming wave of Nakama Records. This ensemble/label, run by Christian Meets Svendsen, has been making music in the grey avant-garde area between jazz, experimental, and classical contemporary since 2015. The members’ activity represents many aspects of Oslo’s creative scene. This minimalistic piece is written and interpreted through spatial notation, with noise instrumentation added in the production. “Ma” means negative space in Japanese.
SIDSEL ENDRESEN & STIAN WESTERHUS – BATON (RUNE GRAMMOFON, 2014)
Eerie, punching, looping, and alive. Vocalist Sidsel Endresen and guitarist Stian Westerhus both push their instruments to new territories and seemingly search for the unheard. Play it loud. Born in 1952, Endresen is one of Norway’s true veteran improvisers, keeping the flame lit as a prominent element with a unique vocal approach. She started the jazz department here in Oslo together with Torgrim Solid back in the early ’90s (10+ years since Trondheim made one of Europe’s first), and even today, it is a struggle for most institutions to deal with improvisation as a fundamental musical tool, especially on a classical dogmatic, administrative level.
BENDIK BAKSAAS – VIL DU HA ME TIL Å KVEDA (JAZZLAND RECORDINGS, 2018)
Featuring Gunnlaug Lien Myhr (mother of Helga Myhr), this haunting track from producer / performer Bendik Baksaas was presented as part of Jazzland Recordings’ OK World series. This amalgamation of folk singing and ambient electronics (molded samples from a classical choir piece) feels like something wholly fresh yet distantly ancient. The repetitions in Baksaas’ works create tranquility, while the music is ushered forward by gradual changes in elements of the sonic image. Jazzland has done a significant job since 1996 to invent, present and promote all kinds of extended jazz in a broad aesthetic spectrum.
KRISTOFFER LO – FRONT ROW GALLOWS VIEW (PROPELLER RECORDINGS, 2016)
A fantastic piece of repetitive music, recorded in a Southern Norway lighthouse by a tubaist extraordinaire. He’s been involved in a wide range of weird pop projects.
ENSEMBLE NEON – PARALLAXIS FORMA (HUBRO, 2019)
Ensemble neoN was established in 2008, as part of the milieu around the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo — a group of musicians involved with creating cross-genre projects between popular and Western art music. This piece, composed by the Berlin-based Catherine Lamb, was commissioned for Oslo’s Only Connect Festival in 2016 and recorded two years later in Rainbow Studio.
Lamb works with the vibrations of microtonal pitches to produce what she calls “interacting spectra.” Using a variant of just intonation, the ancient tuning system revived and explored by mid-century U.S. composers Harry Partch and Ben Johnston, among others, and influenced by non-Western and particularly Hindustani sources, Lamb’s works typically explore the interaction of sounds in physical spaces or rooms.
In “Parallaxis Forms,” the two vocalists’ phonetic timbres are expanded and developed by the instruments within the ensemble to create a kind of tonal color-wash or blur.
TORTUSA & ARVE HENRIKSEN – UBEVEGELIGE (JAZZLAND, 2021)
Tortusa (aka John Derek Bishop) and trumpeter Arve Henriksen. An ambient journey — abstract and atmospheric, yet underpinned by a relentless chittering beat. Evocative of nature, like a forest observed from space, “Ubeveglige” is infused with both a heated wildness and a cool cosmic detachment.
BENDIK GISKE – HOLE (SMALLTOWN SUPERSOUND, 2019)
Educated at the prestigious jazz department in Trondheim, saxophonist Bendik Giske’s solo debut is the ongoing result of a decade-long journey, turning amongst other places through the dungeons of Berghain. The experience profoundly changed him, opening the gateway to basically making techno on the Adolphe horn.
With tiny microphones placed all over Giske’s instrument and body and recording the album’s sounds in an infamous mausoleum with 20 seconds of natural reverb, every idea’s metaphysical travel from an innocent child’s mind to a full-on spectral experience form a special connection between inner and outer life, high art and underground dancefloor.
HENRIK MUNKEBY NØRSTEBØ – OFF THE COAST (SOFA MUSIC, 2019)
Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø plays the trombone in an astonishing way. Expressing its idiomatic more in terms of sound texture rather than melodic tonalities, his role as a musician becomes paradigm-shifting — always extending the notes’ comfort zones.
Off the Coast is his second duo outing with electronician Daniel Lercher and was recorded in 2017 at Sula, a tiny piece of land off the coast and in the Norwegian sea. The title track is essentially a tightly knit timbral exploration for trombone and laptop and acts as a gateway into the more expansive material of the album overall, that also features the harps of Julie Rokseth, a local fisherman, and field recordings from the island.
DEATHPROD – DEAD PEOPLE’S THINGS (SMALLTOWN SUPERSOUND / RUNE GRAMMOFON, 2004)
Helge Sten (aka Audio Virus, aka Deathprod) has lots of great music to his name. “Dead People’s Things” might be one of his more inviting pieces of music. I’d describe it as the soundtrack to something important that has not yet and will probably never happen. Some amalgam of all your inner workings: brittle strings and a calling voice full of longing. I played this in a mall in Southern Norway (near where Kristoffer Lo recorded his album), where I DJ’d to help pay the bills. Needless to say, it was a weird day shopping.
Stian Balducci & Kjetil Jerve’s own blend of electronic, jazz, and experimental music, ‘Tokyo Tapes: Piano Recycle’, is due out through Dugnad rec this Friday. Have an early listen and look below.