Bodø Jazz Open: A travel diary

There are some really nice people: Sebastian Hayduk, the lighting technician from Audiobeast, offered to take me to the airport in Hamburg during the concert with Joakim Berghäll and Adele Sauros at JFK in Syke the day before my departure, which firstly allowed me to sleep in and secondly spared me the stress of the railway strike. Instead, I have a pleasant journey and a lively conversation and arrive at the airport two hours before boarding. Great!

Now Arlanda is the first destination on the flight plan, with the Baltic Sea below us, of which nothing can be seen because of the woken veil. To get me in the right mood, I listen to Inger Hannisdal's North South East West, a fascinating mixture of folk, dance music and Scandinavian avant-garde with my favourite accordionist Frode Haltli. It's a good thing that there are closed headphones with a silence function. 

As the descent towards Arlanda begins, things get a little wobbly and Florian Arbenz' Conversation #10 with Nils Wogram really gets me swinging. They really get going with the first piece: Jamming is the appropriate title. The drummer and the trombonist really live out their joy of playing. Conversation #10 definitely belongs in the collection. 

The aircraft, filled to the last seat with 180 passengers, groans as it climbs into the dark sky towards Gardermoen at 16:35. Don't the Scandinavians know any flying shame? Who the hell is the cool guitarist on the CD with Nils and Florian? I'm almost tempted to take advantage of the expensive on-board internet fare, but it's not necessary. I make up for it in Gardermoen, because the plane is already descending again. 

I'm now on the third plane, which is supposed to take me from Oslo across the Arctic Circle to Bodø. I didn't have time to research the guitarist because, as a grandad, I was allowed to stream with my almost four-year-old grandchild. It's Christy Doran, by the way, as I find out later.  

Conversation #9 by Florian, alto saxophonist Gregor Osby and Hammond organist Arno Krijgers serves as the sound backdrop. It's marvellous how the two of them make Arbenz's compositions vibrate over his tailor-made soundscape. I'm beginning to think that the Basel drummer is developing into one of the greats. 

I can't say whether the plane is so full because the festival is raging at the destination. In any case, you can't tell from the passengers what style of music they prefer or what else has brought them to the north. Sitting next to me are two Norwegians who speak a very cultivated dialect. The dialects in this country are a big hurdle because they are often difficult to understand even for native speakers from other regions. One of them only wears a T-shirt, which I think takes some getting used to in these latitudes and at the end of January. Arno Krijger is a keyboard wizard. Wistful memories of Jean Jacques Kravetz, Brian Auger or Hardin & York haunt my mind. He once performed with Nils Wograms Route 66 at JFK In Syke. 

On the approach to Bodø, the aircraft is shaken badly by gusts of wind: a foretaste of the storm forecast for the next day. I walk the one and a half kilometres to the hotel with my light luggage. It's three degrees above zero, but dirty remnants of snow and ice bear witness to the fact that it must have been much colder here recently.

At the hotel, I meet Carsten Lindholm, the Danish drummer from the trio with Jan Gunnar Hoff. The two of them had the idea of inviting me to Bodø. A short time later, Dutch bassist Jasper Somsen joins them.  It becones an entertaining evening with lots of jazz anecdotes.

After a hearty breakfast, I head to the harbour the next morning to experience the weather for myself. Powerful storms whip up the water, spray sprays upwards and the ships on the quay heel under the pressure of the wind.  

The festival's transport service picks us up for a meeting at Jan Gunnar Hoff's house. There I learn that this trinational band had a concert in Corsica in November and is now planning this year's concerts. They recorded a CD the previous year, which is due to be released soon. Jan Gunnar tells me that they used to have to play concerts to boost record sales, which was the musicians' main source of income. The internet and streaming portals have completely changed that. Now you need CDs to get concert gigs. You can no longer earn money by selling records. The streaming income is hardly worth mentioning. Without self-marketing via social media and the targeted development of a large number of followers, it is very difficult to get the audience into the concert hall.

According to Jan Gunnar, he became a professor in order to achieve a comfortable standard of living as a musician. Jasper Sommsen also teaches and plays in various constellations, as the wages are not enough. But none of them want to live any other life than they do now. 

While the three of them are taken to the venue by the transport service, I fight my way through the gale force 10 or more winds to the festival centre in the concert hall, which is appropriately named Stormen.  The technical relief organisation has cordoned off the road around the building because there is a risk of parts of the roof falling off.

I meet Eirill, the press officer, for the first time in the festival office. She is a young power woman who seems to have inexhaustible sources of energy. She actually started out with heavy metal, but over the years she has become more and more enthusiastic about Bodø Jazz Open. "This year we have over 40 volunteers and some professional staff. In total, there are around 50! events that require a huge amount of organisation." She would love to write a long letter of thanks to everyone right away, she is so pleased with the team spirit and their great, selfless work. 

The concept of the festival is deliberately "open", the aim is to appeal to a wide audience. The Fjords are a pop band, Silje Nergard is not necessarily a mainstream jazz musician and Steve Hackett has made a name for himself with Genesis. Where else would the audience come from in this deserted subarctic region?

The Norwegians are doing something very sensible with their oil-related wealth: they are investing in cultural infrastructure. The brand new Stormen concert hall can hold over 800 visitors, which is remarkable for a city of 50,000 inhabitants. Next to it is the equally impressive new library building, which would fill the mayor of many a German city with envy.

The short walk to the Beddingen cultural centre is a tough one. You really have to fight against the gale in the narrow streets. It feels like a winter storm on an East Frisian island. It's just a shame that some jazz lovers will be staying at home in this weather. "Sånn er livet!" they say in Norwegian

HAUK: An experimental young duo fresh from university in Stavanger

The small hall slowly begins to fill up. Two young musicians, a guitarist and a drummer from the Jazzlinja at Stavanger University are performing. This is their second appearance at the Bodø Jazz Open. HAUK plays a mixture of jazz, prog rock and fusion, as the programme says.  Henrik Hausmann picks his guitar strings with courage, accompanied by Danish drummer Nicolai Schmidt. It's marvellous how relaxed the two youngsters get going, with a fast, varied sequence of riffs and a wide-awake drummer to accompany them. It's pointless to think about the style of music: It is the privilege of youth to let off steam. You don't need jazz police at that age. Carsten Lindholm was full of praise for these youngsters and their inspiring music.

Henrik Hausmann, HAUK

Nicolai Schmidt, HAUK

Three of a Kind: Hoff / Somsen / Lindholm
By now the hall has filled up and the Hoff / Somsen / Lindholm trio take to the stage. Jan Gunnar and Carsten have known each other for six years. Right from their first gig in Copenhagen, they realised how well they harmonise with each other. The opener, a piece called Spring by Carsten, immediately shows the direction: Soft, melodic and heartfelt. But it doesn't stop there, because crooning is not their thing. The mood changes in an instant and an intense interplay full of power and expressiveness develops without completely abandoning the lyrical setting.

The Trio Hoff /  Somsen / Lindholm

The trio breathes in time, they listen to each other and give each other plenty of space and inspiration. The three not only act as a unit on stage: mutual respect and the certainty of being in good hands in this community inspire them. 

While the subarctic storm rages outside, the European trio plays sensitive melodies. Jasper is a very melodic bass player with a memorable sound. The list of his recordings on Challenge Records is long and the names of his fellow players are sonorous.

Jasper Somsen from Wageningen, NL

Carsten's rhythm work is a solid bench. Full of attention and always wide awake, he keeps an eye on his colleagues. He serves the group sensitively and very musically. Always open to surprises, the Dane, who is very modest in his demeanour, presents his piece Indian Summer and points out that he has studied Indian tabla music intensively. In no time at all, he reveals himself to be a mantric percussionist and a fine melodic-rhythmic interweaving of drums and piano unfolds. It doesn't take long before Jasper also jumps on the bandwagon. But Carsten's motto remains: Reduce to the maximum. Strength lies in tranquillity. And once again a sound unfolds as if from a single mould!

Once again, it is Jan Gunnar Hoff who opens our ears to a new dimension. His piano playing is characterised by role models such as Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea. He loves to demand everything he can from the piano and shares his joy of playing with his colleagues. The band plays atmospheric, fine jazz without the slightest hint of kitsch. In one of the last pieces, Beneath the Surface, which the scuba diver Jasper dedicated to his teacher Enrico Pieranunci, a bubbling, bubbling and flowing underwater world becomes visible and the wonderfully lyrical Jan Gunnar takes his audience on a maritime safari this time.

Jan Gunnar Hoff from Bodø, Norwegen

Although the audience in the somewhat chilly hall had wrapped up warm in the meantime due to the weather, they demanded an encore so that they could set off on their journey home revitalised. A wonderful start for me.

The next morning, it's time for desk work. My three musician friends have left in the meantime and I have to write down my impressions.

Jørn Øien Cosmopolitan - Nordlands Zawinul?

Keyboardist Jørn Øien is one of the outstanding representatives of northern Norwegian jazz. On the outside, the bearded keyboard virtuoso from Narvik fits the cliché image of a Norwegian, but there is also his inner fire. On the one hand, it draws its nourishment from the universe that Miles Davis created in the seventies with Bitches Brew, for example. On the other hand, he sees himself as a world musician who locates the roots of jazz in Africa and oriental music, among other places. In a short lecture, he gives the example of the banjo, which can be traced back to the African goat-necked lute ngoni. He makes no secret of his admiration for Joe Zawinul, whose musical heritage Øien has made part of his own DNA. 

At a festival as exposed to the vagaries of the weather as the Bodø Jazz Open, it is hardly surprising that Stormy Weather is played. The audience in Sinus, the small hall of the concert hall Stormen (sic!), is immediately hooked by the band. 

In addition to the fire described above, Øien also radiates an almost meditative calm. He draws his groove from these opposing poles. The piece Return of the Empire, for example, begins with electronic sounds accompanied by percussion. Magnus Bakken plays an oriental-sounding melody with his alienated soprano saxophone, Rune Arnesen and Sidiki Camara provide the soundscape and Jørn Øien the space sound.  The Weather Report sound is complete. But it doesn't sound like a copy at all, it's lively contemporary live music. It makes us rather humble, because we have to admit to ourselves that much of what we consider modern today has its roots in a completely different time. So who might be the Emperor be Øien is referring to?

In Asante Sana Kaka, the aforementioned ngoni is used and gives the song its African character with the deep voice of Camara's Malian singing. Jørn Øien picks up on these components by mirroring and alienating them with his keyboard and an electronically distorted singing voice. The arc extends from pre-colonial Africa into the modern age! This gripping music opens our eyes and ears! As a final statement, The Legacy is the quasi substrate of Jørn Øien's musical foundation.

Jørn Øien - Keyboards 
Magnus Bakken - Stronischen axophone 

Rune Arnesen - drums and percussion 

Sidiki Camara - ngoni, djembe and vocals 

Audun Erlien - bass


The Norwegian postal line Hurtigruten connects the country's harbour cities and is now also of great tourist importance. Today you can see two Hurtigruten ships in the harbour of Bodø. In front MS Kong Harald and behind it MS Nordlys.

Front view  of MS Kong Harald

Wikipedia: MS Kong Harald (in Norwegian)
Wikipedia: MS Polarlys

The Logo of the European Cultural Capital

Steve Hackett & Djabé play in the Scene, a large hall for maybe 600 people at most. Some say there are 400 (me), others 500 (local patriots). In any case, the hall is well filled and Steve Hackett & Djabé sit at the back of the hall before the concert, lined up like a chicken coop, signing CDs and vinyl.

They have been touring South and South-East Europe for many years and get on really well on stage. Unfortunately, I couldn't make the interview date as the conversation with Marius Neset took longer than planned. Steve Hackett makes a very tidy impression and obviously enjoys being on the road with such excellent musicians. The Northerners are proud to welcome a musician from the Rock'n Roll Hall of Fame.  

I take a few photos and don't stay long because I want to concentrate on the concert with Marius today. It's not that I don't like the music, but my thoughts are in the Sinus, the hall where Neset is going to play.

Marius Neset Quartett

In the afternoon, I conducted an interview with Marius Neset, which took place in a pleasant atmosphere at the hotel. The Norwegian comes from the small town of Os near Bergen. He is recognised as an extraordinary instrumentalist and a very productive composer who also writes for large orchestras. His latest release, Geyser, published by ACT, was premiered as part of the BBC Proms 2022 at the Royal Albert Hall with the London Sinfonietta and his jazz quintet.

"The award-winning saxophonist and world-class composer brings his quintet to Bodø Jazz Open, says the festival organisers." It continues: "One of the most exciting artists in jazz" and "His discography testifies to an impressive technique, but also to an impressive composer who strives for genuine originality in his music", writes Downbeat Magazine when it names Neset as one of the 25 musicians who will shape the future of jazz. This is good for the soul, as he was recently at JFK Syke with Arild Andersen's band. In the meantime, he has released his album Happy in 2022, which he recorded with his new quartet. On drums, it comes as no surprise to anyone, is his alter ego Anton Eger, the Norwegian with a Swedish passport who now lives in his adopted home of Copenhagen. Irishman Connor Chaplin is on electric bass and Elliot Galvin on guitars and keyboards, both firmly rooted at Edition Records. They bring funk and electric sound with them. Marius Neset is looking for a challenge in new constellations and is full of praise for their contribution to his band. After just a few minutes, it becomes clear that this is a band in which everyone has something to say and that the unbridled joy is carried along by each individual musician.

Sicher hat Neset eine sehr dominierende Position, doch nimmt er sich immer mal wieder zurück und  überlässt seinen Mitspielern das Feld, immer bereit, deren Ideen aufzugreifen oder weiterzuführen. Die Geschwindigkeit, mit der Anton Eger und Marius Neset aufeinander reagieren, wenn sie ihre akrobatisch anmutenden rhythmischen Schlagabtausche machen, ist unglaublich. Die beiden kennen sich schon viele Jahre, und mit keinem anderen Musiker hat er so viel gespielt, wie mit seinem Schlagzeuger. 

Neset certainly has a very dominant position, but every now and then he takes a step back and leaves the field to his fellow players, always ready to pick up on their ideas or take them further. The speed with which Anton Eger and Marius Neset react to each other when they perform their acrobatic rhythmic exchanges is incredible. The two have known each other for many years, and he has played with no other musician as much as with his drummer. 

The following recording of Happy was made spontaneously. I actually just wanted to take a short clip with the camera and its telephoto lens. But I couldn't find a suitable place to get out, so it turned into a good 16 minutes. As I said: with a fairly heavy telephoto without a tripod. Marius and Anton were delighted and agreed to publish it.


Today I'm grounded for the time being, as there are warnings everywhere about staying out in the open due to the ongoing storm. Suddenly, my phone beeps and the following message pops up:

That's why a lot of flights are cancelled again and it's never certain if and when the musicians will arrive. But on the whole, an amazing amount of things still work out as planned. For external events, however, it looks bad. A large stage in front of the town hall is planned for the opening of the European Capital of Culture programme. That's probably not going to happen.

The situation must be quite stressful for the organisers, considering that Queen Sonja will be attending the opening ceremony on Saturday. Everything has been planned in detail for months and then hurricane Ingunn comes around the corner and literally throws everything into disarray.


What a weird constellation of numbers, today's date!
It's a whole new feeling of freedom when I go outside at lunchtime today. Daylight and no wind or rain. The city and especially the harbour are teeming with event technicians who are probably preparing for tomorrow. I take photos of the many sports boats and sea rescuers. When I see the pier opposite, I decide to go there. It's nice to see the city and its Windy City skyline from a different perspective.

Gestern zerstörte der Sturm mehrere Fenster des Radisson in Bodø, die nun repariert werden mussen

Link to the album with all photos of todays walk

How can you tell you're in Norway? In the streets, cars seem to stop even when a pedestrian comes close to a crossing. They don't even need to clearly signal that they want to cross the road. You have to get used to that. And that the cars here are so quiet because the proportion of electric cars is much higher than in Germany. 

Incidentally, I met Marius Neset at lunchtime today, who was still stuck in the hotel. His flight doesn't leave until this evening, which means it's more than 30 hours late. He had his laptop with him and used the time to compose.

How can you tell you're in Norway? In the streets, cars seem to stop even when a pedestrian comes close to a crossing. They don't even need to clearly signal that they want to cross the road. You have to get used to that. And that the cars here are so quiet because the proportion of electric cars is much higher than in Germany. 

Incidentally, I met Marius Neset at lunchtime today, who was still stuck in the hotel. His flight doesn't leave until this evening, which means it's more than 30 hours late. He had his laptop with him and used the time to compose.

The Jaga Jazzist concert unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the storm

Saturday, the 03.02.2024

The big day has arrived. The sky is still gloomy, it's snowing a little and it's below zero. I still can't imagine how the Norwegians are going to organise an outdoor event in these conditions. I spend the day at my desk, interrupted by a few walks to the pier and through the city. You can sense a certain nervousness ahead of the big event and a steady increase in the number of people in the city. An accordion orchestra plays in the covered Glashuset shopping arcade in the afternoon. I eat at the pizza buffet in Egon: pizza galore plus a non-alcoholic beer 246 nkr. Exchange rate €0.087. It doesn't get much cheaper than that at home. Incidentally, petrol costs €2.05/l here. But modern Norwegians drive electric cars anyway. The Tesla Y is the best-selling car in this country.

Der Tesla Y ist das meistverkaufte Auto in diesem Land.

The opening ceremony with Queen Sonja is at 4 pm. A big crowd at the concert hall. I didn't get a ticket. Large limousines are parked on the street and the square by the harbour is filling up, as this is where the big show takes place at 6.30 pm. A platform with a lavvo, a stylised Sami tent, floats in the harbour basin and is used as a stage for the show. Several large screens and loudspeakers are set up so that everyone can see something. The show today is characterised by the indigenous population of northern Scandinavia and their culture. Bodø, or Bådåddjo in Lulesamese, is home to the so-called sea sami (Sjøsamer or Lulesamer in Norwegian).

There is now a crowd in the town that is usually only seen on 17 May, Norway's bank holidays. Including the Queen, who is clearly recognisable by her white coat as she waves to the people from the Radisson's balustrade. Joiks, those typical Sami songs, can be heard. There is dancing and a grandfather and his granddaughter talk about the future and the inspiration that Bodø 2024 will give us. The whole thing is also broadcast on television with a time delay.

Huge batteries of spotlights and light cannons set the scene and there is a lavish fireworks display at the end. Pomp is not really the Norwegians' thing, but as the first Arctic European Capital of Culture, you have to show what you've got.

Immediately after the event, everyone heads back towards the Glashaus, the covered shopping arcade. But suddenly it doesn't go any further. At the Radisson, we have to wait for Queen Sonja to get into her limousine and speed off. 

This is followed by the opening concert at Konserthus Stormen and the third concert with Jan Gunnar Hoff, Per Mathisen, Gary Husband and Nguyen Lé, each of which can be read about in a separate article.

When I walk into the Kulturhaus Beddingen, where the insiders are meeting again for the final concert, I capitulate. There are perhaps 50 - 50 people in the queue at the bar. That's too many for me. I've been speaking Norwegian all day and it's just too exhausting in a crowded club. And tomorrow I have to get up early to start my journey back.

Sunday, 04.2.2024

At breakfast on Sunday morning, I see Audun Vinger, who I don't recognise yet, and Björn Willdadsen, the manager of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, a top Norwegian ensemble. He is also the manager of the Midnorsk Jazzsenter in Trondheim and therefore a central figure in Norwegian jazz. We have an interesting conversation and I hear who his interlocutor has just been. Audun Vinger is a well-known journalist who writes for Dagbladet, but is also responsible for a weekly insider newsletter and writes for Jazznytt, the country's only jazz magazine. But I didn't know his face. Because I subscribe to both. 

I was able to speak to him briefly at the airport. A likeable man who knows pretty much everything that's going on in Norwegian jazz.

I fly back via Gardermoen (Oslo), Kastrup (Copenhagen) and Hamburg, arriving in Kirchweyhe at 10.27 pm, where my wife picks me up from the railway station.


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