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Molde might be a small coastal town in western Norway, but it has multi-storey cruise ships arriving each day, preparing for fjord explorations. Its modern shopping streets are bordered by slopes full of quaint wooden houses, and there's also a surrounding scenic abundance of small islands and large mountains. All is perpetually lit by the midnight sun. Molde is also significant for hosting one of the world's oldest jazz festivals, running since 1961. All of its gigs are within easy walking distance, ranging from open-air park locations to the intimate Storyville Jazz Club, located in the Plassen cultural centre, which also boasts a medium-sized theatre. Over six days, the calendar was full (but not overly so) with big name Americans, set beside a roster of frequently more alternative Norwegian artists.

Composer Maria Schneider was this year's artist-in-residence, leaving behind her Stateside orchestra and working with Ensemble Denada from Oslo. Many of her works became darker and deeper, assisted by a stage-spanning video backdrop, populated by real-time close-ups of soloing players. Subtle electronic washes infiltrated, and her newer piece 'Data Lords' took on a dramatically mysterious hue, with Schneider appearing possessed by the doomy accumulations of Denada. This continued into the premiere live performance of 'Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)', with guesting saxophone cohort Donny McCaslin and his current vocalist Jeff Taylor. This piece from David Bowie's Blackstar continued the brooding vein of narrative noir jazz.

WEB-MIJF2018 DonnyMcCaslin byOleBjornSteinsvik- K0A9784

The following night saw McCaslin's own band (pictured above) pin our tender bodies to the walls of Storyville, as the quirky Taylor provided vocals on a fresh songbook, inbetween extensive freak-outs from Jason Lindner's corner of extreme electro-blanketed keyboards, as he shifted from acoustic piano purity to knob-twiddling bleeds. This band strides higher every time, and is lately operating at peak power, with drummer Nate Wood's whipping funk scatters and bassist Jonathan Maron's dense low-matter suspensions. The leader stalked the stage, striking stick insect poses as he urged his combo on by blowing directly in each player's direction, as a form of conduction. McCaslin's own windswept solos were loaded with reverb-expansion. The band climaxed with more Bowie, ending with that Lodger's lesser-heard 'Look Back In Anger', in a singalong and soloing extravaganza, this outfit now operating on a gigantic, authoritative scale.

Two nights later, the Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love presented his Extra Large Unit, enlarging an already sprawling crew. An extraordinary fusion emerged from the anticipated abstract extremity, with a pair of guesting Brazilian percussionists, a sextet of Ethiopian singers, dancers and instrumentalists, as well as troublemaking guitarist Terrie Ex, from the Dutch angular rock outfit The Ex. Perhaps surprisingly, this mega-orchestra managed to jump-cut between its chosen forms, highlighting the affinity between rampant noise and ritualised groove. The combination was stunning, with the Ethiopians eager to head for the extremes, and the Norwegians enjoying a previously unheard rhythmic propulsiveness. It was surely the best Ethio-free-Nordic-Brazilian freak-out in the world, beginning at 12.50am and hurtling way past 2am, with zero dawdling on the way.

As it fast approaches 60, the Moldejazz festival presented one of its strongest Stateside line-ups in recent memory, but its European part of the programme (mostly Norwegian artists) included much music that thrilled via a precarious relationship with expectation, delivering the element of intensified surprise.

Martin Longley
– Photos by Thor Egil Leirtrø (Maria Schneider/Ensemble Denada) and Ole Bjørn Steinsvik (Donny McCaslin) 

SimulacrumWeb

King Crimson and tech-death titans such as Cynic and Atheist meet in the carousel of nightmares conjured by Simulacrum, the eviscerating triumvirate of guitarist Matt Hollenberg, organist John Medeski and drummer Kenny Grohowski. At this year's special John Zorn-themed Jazz em Agosto bash in Lisbon the trio pile riff upon riff from their curator's compositional scripts. Hollenberg, hunched over his instrument, lurches back and forth, alternating his attack between Earth Crisis's crunching chords and the angular gyp of former post-hardcore heroes such as Clikatat Ikatowi and Crom-Tech. Medeski vamps hard, drilling low-flying hornet squadrons from his Hammond, before plunging into a series of stammering jabs – grousing and grumbling in a deep-throb mastication of the blues. Someone pass the baking soda, that wooden crate's got a seriously dickey gut. Behind them, Grohowski (member of New York avant-metallers Imperial Triumphant) is a simpatico powerhouse, hair hanging down over his face as he rustles up some tribal beef, rousing double kick-drum whumps, epic tom-rolls and cymbal-snapping punctuations, recalling Dave Lombardo at his Reign In Blood peak. Testosterone levels reach savage proportions, but are gratefully tempered by migrations into horror soundtrack, astrological drift, klezmer, surf rock, sci-fi themes and cartoonish psychedelic odyssey in microcosm. Simulacrum live up to their name as a form of splendid caricature, emphasising, exaggerating and embodying the finest eclectic aspects and passions of John Zorn's unceasing creativity.

Spencer Grady
Photo by Petra Cvelbar (Gulbenkian Música)

Canadian pianist Ron Davis (above left) has enlisted the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra's drummer, Alyn Cosker and award-winning singer, violinist and BBC Radio Scotland jazz presenter Seonaid Aitken (above right) for his band SymphRONica's latest visit to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August ahead of a new album release.

Toronto-based Davis, who formed SymphRONica in 2003 using diverse line-ups including jazz trio and full symphony orchestra, has appeared on the Edinburgh Fringe with the current octet version of the band for the past two years and has added concerts at the Fringe by the Sea festival in North Berwick and the Tron Theatre in Glasgow to his twelve Edinburgh gigs.

"The Fringe is crazy, with so many shows all vying for the audience's attention, but at the same time, there's an energy about Edinburgh in August that makes you want to be part of this mad, fantastic festival," says Davis, who has the distinction of having studied piano with a teacher who was taught by both Oscar Peterson and George Gershwin's brother-in-law, David Saperton. "Just being around so much talent and creativity can inspire you to try and take your music onto a new level." Following a series of symphony orchestra concerts, Davis decided to create a band that would allow him to blend the classical music he trained in with the jazz that was, and is, his passion without requiring a massive budget.

"I chose an octet comprising a string quartet with an electro-acoustic jazz quartet – piano, guitar, bass and drums – because I wanted to give all the players an input, and this configuration allows that," he says. "I also liked the idea that, as an octet, we could include different styles of music and switch from a jazz standard or something based on I Got Rhythm to a folk tune more naturally than with an orchestra and yet still have a certain richness of sound."

Seonaid Aitken, who plays violin with the hot club styled Rose Room, winners of the Best Band title at this year's Scottish Jazz Awards, will be playing viola with SymphRONica in a line-up that includes Davis' long-time guitarist, and one of Canada's finest, Kevin Barrett and Aline Homzy, who is developing a reputation as a jazz violinist alongside her classical credentials.

"As well as playing in the string quartet, Seonaid will also be singing, which gives us an extra dimension," says Davis, who is enthusiastic about meeting up with both Aitken and Cosker, the latter having worked with SymphRONica on their two previous Edinburgh Fringe runs.

"Generally we travel with a core of Kevin, Aline and myself and pick up musicians locally, and we've been lucky to get players with the vision to make the music happen," says Davis. "But Alyn went beyond that. When we played the first number in rehearsal, Kevin and I looked at each other and mouthed 'Wow.' We didn't have to tell Alyn what we wanted because he just made it his own. We've developed some new music for the new album, UpfRONT, which is due in October, since we last worked together and we can't wait to hear how Alyn makes that sound."

Ron Davis' SymphRONica plays the Jazz Bar, Edinburgh (Thursday 2 August); Stockbridge Church, Edinburgh (3-4 and 17 August); Marwick Spiegeltent, North Berwick (7 August); Scottish Arts Club, Edinburgh (8, 10, 16, 18 August); Leith Depot, Edinburgh (13, 14, 15 August); Pianodrome, Edinburgh (15 August - lunchtime); and the Tron Theatre, Glasgow (19 August).

Rob Adams

Joe-Smith---Christian-McBride-10

If Valletta's sun-baked limestone is a constant reminder of Malta's ancient history, then its jazz festival, much like some of its forward-thinking contemporary architecture, is a strong indication of its cultural ambitions, perhaps amplified this year by the city's status as Europe's 2018 Capital of Culture. The jazz festival is firmly established with a 27-year history, but with switched-on festival director Sandro Zerafa at the helm the opening free-entry concerts outside the stunning Renzo Piano-designed parliament building, felt like an acknowledgment of today's hot topics of openness and diversity. It paid off, with throngs of younger listeners packing the ascending stone steps to listen to promising Tel Aviv guitar talent Yotam Silberstein (below) and his band, which featured young Israeli drum star Daniel Dor, who stoked the band's folkloric jazz fires.

Yotam-Silberstein

While some jazz festivals are increasingly including non-jazz headliners, it was telling that the audiences engaged most willingly with the jazz heavyweights at the heart of the programme here. Indeed, the standout concert of Friday night's bill, was an imperiously raw display from bassist Christian McBride's New Jawn (pictured top). I'd last heard the bassist with his big band at Cheltenham, where he'd shown effortless command of this large unit, but his wilder instincts had been tamed by the reams of scored music. This showing on the festival's waterside main stage was a no-holds-barred improv session with some scorching work from fearsome young trumpeter Josh Evans and drum don Nasheet Waits, McBride grinning and grimacing as he worked between their crossfire. So spicy were these exchanges that Marcus Strickland's cool tenor and bass clarinet offered some sonic balm which he poured over the frenetic grooves. Yet, with another one McBride's Cheshire Cat grins, he introduced Waits' 'K-Kelli Sketch' as being "an audio portrait of his wife" – which made the ferocity of his sawing bowed strings all the more eyebrow-raising. Yet even this freeform freak-out didn't feel out of place thanks to the sheer booting confidence of McBride and his compadres – the depth of their empathy lending the music a tumbling yet authoritative momentum.

If the risk taking of McBride roused rather than riled the audience, then the more box ticking festival-friendly Afro-fusions of Bokanté seemed to trample on some of the artist-audience frisson McBride had achieved. Bokanté (above), the brainchild of Snarky Puppy bassist/bandleader, Michael League, nonetheless extend his immaculately executed polyrhythmic ploys with an African and Brazilian twist. The nine-piece also featuring fellow Puppy guitarist Chris McQueen, plus standout lapsteel master Roosevelt Collier, League himself playing what seemed to be a fretless bass lute that allowed him to perform bluesy low-end slides and slurs. The stand out band member was vocalist Malika Tirolien, who sailed over the triple-drum percussion grooves and quartet of guitarists, deftly integrating some vocal harmonies via her own mic-stand-mounted box of tricks that momentarily swelled her soaring vocals into choir-esque proportions. Maintaining her poise while navigating the twists and turns of the material Tirolien elevated this beyond pristine fusion into something far more soulful.

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The final night was an equal split between two sprightly septuagenarians: the 77-year-old Chick Corea and his Akoustic Trio (aove) and legendary Brazilian singer songwriter João Bosco, now 72. The former threesome are no strangers to big stages and top billings, but this was no cause for complacency as they dug deep into an imaginatively constructed set. Among the highlights were opener 'Morning Sprite', an uptempo swing-into-latin workout that showed the trio's empathetic interaction from the off, the pianist's virtuosity flowing with ease. Corea was intent on recasting old music in a new light as he spun counterpoint bass themes on a reharmonised take on Sammy Fain/Lew Brown's 'That Old Feeling', followed by an equally enlightening reworking of Ellington's 'In A Sentimental Mood', which sounded anything but dated. While there had been some dazzling bass breaks from John Patitucci and the fleet drumming from Dave Weckl, it was the latter who introduced the devilishly complex 'Lifeline' as, "a lot of fun to play". This fiendish 2001 Corea original came over like 'Spain' on steroids and even had bass behemoth Patitucci pushed close to his limits. It was a set that drew the biggest crowd who were held spellbound until the trio's final note.

Bosco's closing set added subtle funk and savvy jazz-inflected interplay to those infectious Rio de Genaro rhythms. Mining the songs to sublime depths, it was bassist Joao Batista and Bosco's guitar that formed the rhythmic core with lead guitar and drums orbiting with improvisational fire – their effortless funk pulling you mercilessly into the huge heart and soul of Bosco's music.

Proving that credibility and accessibility needn't be mutually exclusive, the idyllic setting, high-calibre programme and relaxed ambiance made for a memorable festival experience.

– Mike Flynn

– Photos by Joe Smith (McBride and Bocanté) and André Micallef (Chick Corea)

In 2002, the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko provided an answer to a question jazz fans had been debating since 1959: what album do you play after Miles Davis' Kind of Blue? Davis' album is so powerful it blots out the memory of anything played before and diminishes anything played after it. Yet Stańko's Soul of Things (ECM) followed on with no sense of disjunction, no feeling that someone had boorishly changed the radio station, maintaining Davis' mood of quiet introspection without seeking to imitate it.

Born in Rzeszów, Poland on 11 July, 1942, Stańko emerged during a golden period of Polish jazz, along with pianists Adam Matyszkowicz (Makowicz), saxophonist Zbigniew Seifert and pianist Krzysztof Komeda. In 1962 Stańko organised his first group, The Jazz Darings with Makowicz on piano, entered a jazz competition and won, with Stańko taking the top instrumental award. It brought him to the attention of pianist, composer and arranger Krzysztof Komeda, credited with launching the modern jazz movement in post-Stalinist Poland. At the 1963 Warsaw Jazz Jamboree Komeda invited Stańko to join his ensemble. It was a career shaping move. Soon, Stańko was recording Komeda's film music and touring with Komeda across Europe. In 1966 he appeared on Komeda's historic Astigmatic, one of the most important European jazz albums of all time. When Komeda died unexpectedly in 1969 it was a blow to Stańko. He formed a quintet with Zbigniew Seifert and Janusz Muniak (ts) recording Music for K – dedicated to Komeda – ensuring this group would become recognised as one of the best Polish jazz groups of the time.

In 1973, Stańko formed the Stańko-Vesala Quartet with Finnish drummer Edward Vesala, debuting on ECM with Balladyna. During the 1980s he formed Freelectronic, briefly reunited with the ECM label on Gary Peacock's Albert Ayler tribute, Voice From the Past – Paradigm, and collaborated with Cecil Taylor later in the decade. With the political climate changing for the better in the 1990s and personal problems behind him, Stańko's career took off. He renewed his association with ECM and a series of critically acclaimed albums followed, including Litania: Music of Krzysztof Komeda, a tribute to the pianist – which was described as "one of the jazz triumphs of 1997" by The Guardian.

In 1993, he formed a new quartet with pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Sławomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michał Miśkiewicz, and toured extensively, debuting the group on record with Soul of Things (ECM). Other groups followed, with pianist Alexi Tuomarila and his New York Quintet. In April 2018 he succumbed to ill health, cancelling all concerts. He died on 29 July 2018 after a battle with cancer.

– Stuart Nicholson
– Photo by Tim Dickeson

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