Norwegian vibes at Aberdeen Jazz Festival

Jazz-indiepop fusion outfit, Pixel. Picture: Contributed

Jazz-indiepop fusion outfit, Pixel. Picture: Contributed

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Three varied Norwegian acts are on their way to the Aberdeen Jazz Festival, writes Jim Gilchrist

Any mention of Scandinavian jazz tends to invoke Jan Garbarek’s glacial lyricism, or the finely chosen keyboard work of his ECM stablemates Tord Gustavsen or Bobo Stenson. Yet even Nordic jazz has its roots in the United States’ greatest indigenous art form, and one acclaimed Norwegian saxophonist whose powerful blowing has stayed true to the post-bop path is Petter Wettre, who brings an intriguing non-bass trio to Aberdeen Jazz Festival later this month.

Wettre is one third of a troika of Norwegian acts at this year’s festival – the others being the aforementioned Tord Gustavsen, making his return to the Granite City, and the young jazz-indie-rock fusion outfit Pixel. His trio sees him in the company of Norwegian guitarist Hans Mathisen and Italian drummer Paolo Vinaccia – the latter well known to Scottish audiences through his presence in bassist Arild Andersen’s trio along with Tommy Smith.

“It’s not your typical jazz trio,” Wetter says, “in that we’re playing without the acoustic bass, so the music is definitely based on other principles than swing, and Paolo is a very special drummer and a lot of the music is based around him and his aesthetics.

“Of course, he’s a rock drummer as well, and I like to play with him because he challenges me on several aspects.”

Wettre, 47, agrees that his style is far more of a conventional modern jazz approach, influenced not least by his mentors at Boston’s famous Berklee College of Music, where he studied with the likes of George 
Garzone and Dave Liebman.

“So much of my musical upbringing was from the States,” he explains. “But even before Berklee I was always tuned in to the American tradition with swing and bop and post-bop, Coltrane and Miles… But I am still a Scandinavian, and that will affect my approach.

“In a way I need to distance myself from the forefathers of jazz, but that is where my heart is and I try and 
express it as much as possible, but with my own voice.”

That saxophone voice, authoritatively controlled yet fluid, has seen Wettre reap widespread recognition and numerous awards, including Spellemannprisen – “Norwegian Grammies” – for two of his 17 albums.

As well as being a prolific recorder and tourer, he is also an educator, visiting schools in his native Norway and giving clinics and masterclasses across the world.

He also published Live at the Lighthouse, a book of his transcriptions of solos from the album of that name by his old mentor, collaborator and friend, American saxophonist Dave Liebman.

Teaching, he says, “keeps me on my toes, because I figure that one 
of the best ways to learn about things is to talk about them and express myself to someone else. It’s a good test for me.”

Wettre is an enthusiastic and innovative exploiter of the internet and social media, streaming albums online and, most recently, attracting much attention by releasing his own app, offering not only his music but his concert calendar, videos, social network and other online links, and “behind the scenes” material.

“The possibilities of the app are really limitless,” he reckons, “compared to making a CD and putting it in a store and hoping it will sell 
itself, which is almost like believing in Santa Claus these days.”

The Oslo-based saxophonist, who appears at Aberdeen’s Blue Lamp venue on 21 March, says he’s looking forward to returning to Aberdeen, where he last played in the 1990s with Scots pianist and fellow Berklee alumnus Steve Hamilton.

Other names on this year’s Aberdeen festival bill include the twin-drum-driven Sons of Kemet, guitar virtuoso Martin Taylor with singer Alison Burns, Georgina Jackson with the Aberdeen Jazz Orchestra delving into the great American songbook, and former Average White Bandmates Hamish Stuart and Molly Duncan getting together once again.

While centred, as ever, on the city’s renowned Blue Lamp club, there are also festival gigs in the Queen’s Cross Church, the Lemon Tree and elsewhere, while once again Aberdeen’s largest free music event, Jazz on the Green, brings a dozen or more jazz, blues and soul bands to the Merchant Quarter.

Wettre comes as part of a Nordic package, along with Pixel and Tord Gustavsen, funded by Music Norway.

“I think if you have my trio, Tord Gustavsen’s quartet and Pixel, you have a wide variety of what’s happening on the Norwegian jazz scene at the moment,” he says.

“These three ensembles are probably as different as you can possibly get.”

• Aberdeen Jazz Festival runs from 18-22 March. See www.aberdeenjazzfestival.com

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