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Last Updated: Monday, 21 July, 2003, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Norway's jazz party
By Chris Jones
BBCi Music

Molde sits next to a fjord
Every year, the jazz world descends on a small town on the Norwegian coast for a week of music.

Nestling next to an idyllic fjord, since 1961 Molde, on Norway's north-west coast, has seen such stellar names as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Dexter Gordon and Chick Corea all travelling north to play in venues that range from an open air stadium to the local school gym.

But last week, world politics got in the way as prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, in the interests of international relations, invited Israel's Ariel Sharon to his home town.

To the town's folk, this was not good timing. High levels of security meant closed airports and cordoned-off streets, hampering the far more serious business of enjoying a week's music.

Local journalist Tommi Fossum told BBC News Online: "This was nothing but a PR exercise to make our prime minister look good.

"Nothing concrete came out of the meeting and he has made himself pretty unpopular with the people of Molde."

Terje Rypdal
Terje Rypdal holds fort at Molde
This is hardly surprising when you consider this is a small town with a population of 25,000 that, in one week, plays host to over 50,000 jazz fans.

Every year the festival appoints an artist in residence to collaborate with local artists.

This year it was the turn of New York saxophonist Michael Brecker. Sure enough, he turned in triumphant sets with both the Norwegian/Bulgarian folk/jazz collective Farmers Market and Trondheim newcomers Urban Connection while still finding time to deliver a moving performance in a local church.

Yet despite drawing international stars such as Brecker, John Zorn, Dave Holland and Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer the festival also demonstrates how Norway is now home to some of the most important new music today.

This is the festival that has seen legendary Scandinavian names like Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal and Jon Christensen forge new directions in jazz, and Molde continues to showcase some of the most exciting young bands around.

 Fiona Talkington with Stian Carstensen
Award-winner Fiona Talkington with Stian Carstensen
Both avant garde guitarist Eivind Aarset and free-form electronica outfit Supersilent gave incendiary performances that left the crowds gasping.

Finally, the UK wasn't forgotten. BBC Radio 3's Fiona Talkington - in town to record a forthcoming series on the festival's history - received the prestigious Molde Rose Award to commemorate her tireless championing of Norwegian music on the Late Junction show.

It was only the second time that the award has been given to a non-Norwegian. It was yet one more reminder of how this remarkable festival has survived by concentrating solely on music and the people who love it.


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