The Sound Of The North

the sound of the northBy Luca Vitali

Subtitled, Norway And The European Jazz Scene, and with an introduction and edited by Fiona Talkington, this is the most informative, the most engaging, the most wide-ranging and the most valuable guide to the very special music that has come out of a very special country in the last 50 years.

Originally published in Italian, it came out in English in October last year – and I attended the launch in Oslo (there is an account of that here) – so I can only apologise for the time it has taken me to write about it here. My excuse – and it’s a good one – is that a few minutes spent with this book leads inevitably to an hour or two with it, interspersed with visits to my own CD collection or to the websites of musicians mentioned, or websites which sell the music that Luca writes about and which I am now dying to hear. The last thing one feels like doing is writing oneself; there is too much reading and listening to do…

Vitali pinpoints the arrival in Scandinavia of the American composer, band leader and theoretician George Russell as the catalyst for the creation of the northern sound – and the seeds of many different northern sounds – which led to European jazz’s liberation from the Afro-American tradition that had hereto had such an overbearing influence upon it.

From Russell, Vitali moves on to The ECM generation, to the important clubs – Club 7, Club Blå – and festivals – Molde, Konsberg, Vossajazz, Nattjazz and Punkt – to Jan Garbarek and Arild Andersen, to Nils Petter Molvær, to Bugge Wesseltoff and Nu-Jazz, to Jaga Jazzist, to Arve Henriksen and Jan Bang, to Supersilent, to Maja Ratkje, to Håkon Kornstad, to Moskus.

Luca Vitali and Fiona Talkington

Luca Vitali and Fiona Talkington

The wide range of what Vitali covers is really important because he wishes to dispell the notion we might have that all Norwegian music has that “Nordic tone”, the cool, quiet, reflective “fjord” sound that is certainly there in some of it but which is just one small part of what this remarkably small but remarkably productive scene has brought to the world.

Vitali’s enthusiasm and positive approach which is striking and infectious in person is well conveyed in these pages. Want to find out about Terje Isungset’s ice instruments and ice festival? It’s here. Want to know about the “flat society” that means everyone can get to play with everyone else? That’s here. Want to know about the style of education at Trondheim Conservatory, Yep, it’s here. Want to know more about the Hardanger fiddle tradition and how folk music has influenced jazz? That’s here too.

As Fiona Talkington says in her introduction: “Lica Vitali has gone to Norway not to intrude or take away its musical treasures, but, with humility and respect, to uncover and reveal the riches which are enduring, the creative and human spirit of a seemingly quiet and reserved nation which, actually, has so much to say and so much to give.”

My only minor gripe is that although the author is meticulous in providing his sources in note sections at the end of the two major sections, there is no index. But I suppose that just has me diving in again and spending another hour or two in Sig. Vitali’s company, which isn’t much of a hardship.

  • Being a modern book, The Sound Of The North has its own website. It is here.

Categories: Book review

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