The season opening at Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene is an event not to be missed. 2020-season started actually with two opening nights – the first one, Friday 17th with Mathias Eick Quintet. I was working as a volunteer then, so I won’t write a review, but I can tell you that the house was full, atmosphere cheerful and the audience was over the moon. I was actually more looking forward to the second opening night the next day, with Stian Westerhus and his project V, which is the main topic of this post. More about this gig soon, but let’s start from the beginning.
Half an hour before doors opened, Jan Ole Otnæs, the manager of Victoria, gave a short speech, in which he presented the upcoming spring season with all of its highlights and raised the glass to the new, very promising year at Nasjonal Jazzscene. Everyone waited patiently for the show, drinking up the champagne, ordering another beer or simply falling into deep conversations with friends. Venue was getting filled up with excited jazz lovers, young and elderly, new-comers and habitues. Something solemn was in the air, and not without a reason.
The show was a bit delayed, but there was an important announcement to be made by Norwegian Jazz Forum and its representatives – chariman Ingrid Brattset and general manager, Gry Bråtømyr. The highest Norwegian award in the jazz industry, Buddy Prize for 2019 was about to be announced. It was very exciting to witness this important moment for the whole Norwegian jazz-family. Ingrid finally sounded crucial words: Buddy-prize 2019 goes to…Ståle Storløkken!” and a storm of applause came right after. The reason is pretty obvious for everyone who knows at least one of the projects Ståle is involved in, but as the board of Jazz Forum stated in the formal explanation: as an instrumentalist, Ståle Storløkken is unique, and he has a musical and artistic boldness that permeates his entire work. Ståle was clearly shocked (he didn’t know anything about it until the very moment of announcement) and humbled, but of course truly happy. What is more, his whole family was sitting in the audience giving best support and appreciation, which made it even more special.
Now back to the main star of that night. Stian Westerhus is a Norwegian, multiple award-winning, experimental guitarist. One of his latest work was Stian Westerhus & the Pale Horses released in 2014. He returned in 2016 with album Amputation for House of Mythology.
The project called “V”, that Stian and the band presented that night at Victoria, was actually commissioned by Nasjonal Jazzscene for the season opening in 2018. At that time the band was a quintet and consisted of Stian Westerhus on guitar and vocals, Ståle Storløkken on keys and grand piano, Erland Dahlen on drums, Frode Haltli on accordeaon and Helge Sten on buchla-synth. Jan Ole mentioned in his opening speech, that Nasjonal Jazzscene would like to engage in more of such commissioned projects and then send the band on the tour both locally and internationally. “V” project toured Norway in 2018, and now, as a trio, the band have presented it in Europe – Vienna, Sarajevo and Cologne are among the cities that could enjoy this remarkable piece.
A couple of minutes later, for Ståle to take a deep breath after such announcement, the show was about to start. The venue was bathed in darkness and scintillating lights. Stian begins with short, throbbing sounds which he makes by blowing into his guitar. Delicate and mysterious melodies on grand piano follows. Drums join afterwards, adding even more depth to the sounds. The references that comes to my mind while listening is definitely a mix of Radiohead, David Sylvian, Tom Waits, but also William Adamson (specially with the mysterious, deep, dark vocals) and David Bowie. Charismatic and interesting, both the show and appearance of Stian.
The gig was astonishing and gripping. Mysterious aura, heavy abstract sounds and stunning beauty was accompanying through the whole show. Dialogue between Stian and Ståle – the master of keyboard and electronics, beautifully switches between grand piano – soft, delicate melodies replenish Stians deep and original voice, so that suddenly Ståle switches to electronics and keyboard just to make some noise and again start a new discussion with Stians sharp, deep and vibrant guitar riffs. But what Westerhus was doing with the guitar and his voice was simply incredible. It have us a look into the future, performance had something visionary in it. Westerhus with his band, go much beyond and present a unique and interesting perspective. Like a diamond cutting through glass.
Stian Westerhus – guitar and vocals, Ståle Storløkken – piano, keys and synth, Erland Dahlen – drums