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Washington’s Taste of NORDIC JAZZ06

Since January 15th, Washington’s Blues Alley has been hosting DC Nordic Jazz, where some of the finest representatives of the contemporary Scandinavian jazz scene show their skills. The five featured bands, representing Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, respectively, are Trio Hear-Hear!, the Siggi Flosa Quartet, Anderskov Accident, Kjetil Møster, and the Esbjorn Svenssen Trio. Early Tuesday, the Danish Embassy hosted a brunch where three of those groups (along with some excellent lax -- yes, the Scandinavian spelling of lox) could be sampled.

The Danish sextet Anderskov Accident plays two sets at Blues Alley tonight – one at 8PM and one at 10PM. Piano, drums, bass feature alongside a Ska band-worthy lineup of one trombone and two saxophones. Their sound is dense, sometimes unforgiving, atmospheric rather than driving. At least judging from their cut “Vicious Circle.” Perhaps more an acquired taste than what followed, namely the Finns Jukka Perko (sax), Severi Pyysal (vibraphone), and Teemu Viinikainen (guitar). Not only their combination of vibes, guitar, and (soprano and alto) saxophone are inventive (possibly novel), their sound is absolutely enchanting. Great music, for me, always carries an element of being totally unlike any other… at least in some elements. But ‘different’ for its own sake is no great virtue, either. Hear Hear! merged it with flavors that started out close to Bach, meandered towards Hungarian folk via Jacques Loussier, and then did their own more playful than mischievous arrangement of a Lutheran hymn.

That act was difficult to beat – but if anyone was up to the challenge, Kjetil Møster (sax) together with Erlend Skomsvoll (piano), Steinar Raknes (bass), and Håkon Mjåset Johansen (drums) certainly were. With much more conventional jazz than the Finnish combo, this quartet gave a lesson in what good jazz hitting the groove means. Inspired solos from a band that was clearly outside its normal playing schedule had the temperature at the Danish embassy rise and gave the sparse, pre-noon environment the momentary whiff of a real jazz cellar. While you will have to wait a while to hear Perko & Co. in Washington (they played their sets on Sunday), you can hear the Norwegians tomorrow night at Blues Alley at 8PM and 10PM. If you like jazz but thought that the Tord Gustavsen Trio was perhaps too much understatement, these guys will crank up the heat in chilly D.C.

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