18 April 2008

Norway via NY

New York came to Canberra again this week. This one had a mix of Australian and Scandinavian connections. Both of these are moderately common in Canberra, with several Australians living in, or visiting, the jazz mecca and returning for tours, and Scandinavian musicians travelling the world with state support. Both are highlights of my jazz year.

This visit was from a master Norwegian guitarist, Bjorn Solli, accompanied by Adam Pache, an Australian resident in the big apple, and Alex Bonham, a young but very competent Sydney bassist. Bjorn apparently performs perfectly passable Sinatra-style vocals, but we didn’t hear these on the night. This was an evening of sharp, clear, well articulated guitar. It started in a mainstream and lyrical style (the second tune had me thinking of George Benson and the White Rabbit album). By the end of the night, the guitar was more atonal and noticeably more expansive, and the last set was both gentler in form and more intense in impact. My guitarist friends were commenting on the good tone throughout the range: evident delay, slight reverb and a bit of distortion crunch. They also noted pop influences, some strains of George Benson and Kurt Rosenwinkel, and lots of fourths lines and occasional sweeps.

A drummer friend was similarly admiring of Adam Pache, commenting that he was a “good listener”. I heard him as again quite mainstream, displaying great control and full tones, often at low volumes, and I loved the snare-heavy, rudiment-based cross rhythms in his solos. The bass role was ably provided by Alex Bonham, a young but very capable player out of Sydney. He was not actually aged 11 (despite suggestions by Bjorn) and his playing certain didn’t suggest it. His was a rounded tone which was most evident in quiet passages, with confident walking, sometimes running, bass. His solos were often walking-speed and exploring chordal tones on open strings or fingered at varying pitches.

The tunes were a mix of originals (presumably from Bjorn) and a few standards. His Happy accidents (for which jazz improvisation was its inspiration) was the tune that reminded me of George Benson. Bjorn played a Waltz for Lieder (?) that was definitely a triple time, but seemed more 6/8 to me. We also heard Skylark, Tenor madness, Bill Evans’ Turn out the stars, and perhaps my favourite solo was on I’ll be seeing you.

The Hippo acoustics and environment often result in pretty loud gigs. This was a quiet one but there was real attention from the audience during the quietest passages. It goes to show both the quality of the music on the night, and the fact that volume doesn’t necessarily command attentiveness. Thanks to the big apple and the support of the Royal Norwegian Embassy for bringing this to Hippo.

Bjorn Solli (guitar) played with Adam Pache (drums) and Alex Boneham (bass).

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