Burning Desire: Polarjazz aims for new musical and geographical boundaries

preview concert

Forget cigarette lighters. If you want to be a flamer at a concert in Svalbard you’d best bring a torch.

A lineup of almost entirely new offerings, including the free torches provided for a short hike to a refurbished mining warehouse for a first-ever concert there Saturday afternoon, will be featured during this year’s Polarjazz festival that started Wednesday. The five-day event won’t feature much jazz, but musical exploration will be abundant with offers such as the debut of a “hymns above the frozen soil” suite by the Svalbard Kirkes Trio, two artists who won the equivalent of Norwegian Grammys last month, and first-ever festival concert in Ny-Ålesund.

“It’s several bands we have tried to get up here and several bands we have said no to because we didn’t have room,” said Lasse Hansen, the festival’s director.

His said one of his favorites is Bugge Wesseltoft, a Hammond organist who will be performing a jazz/funk/rap/soul set Friday night with a six-member accompanying ensemble known as “The Organ Club.”

“You never know what to expect,” Hansen said. “He’s a musician who tries so many things.”

The group is also scheduled to perform Saturday afternoon in Ny-Ålesund. Hansen said he wanted to arrange the show in part because percussionist Finn Sletten has the extremely rare distinction of being born in the international research settlement, contrary to Svalbard law that requires expectant mothers to go to the mainland before their due date in case of medical complications.

The concert in the Gruvelageret mine warehouse on Saturday afternoon will require a trek of a few hundred meters beyond Huset at the edge of town in dark and what’s expected to be bitter cold. While free buses will get listeners from the center of town to Huset and the warehouse will be heated, Hansen said he wants to give the journey a bit of extra warmth.

“You don’t need (the torches), but I know for sure the bus can’t take you there,” he said. “It can be nice for 80 people with torches walking up.”

The concert features Nina & the Butterfly Fish, a Norwegian pop/world/jazz trio that’s among the more eclectic bands this year.

“First of all, I couldn’t use more than a trio,” Hansen said. “This band, I think, is also a little bit special.”
Bringing both local and broad international flair is the Icelandic folk/prog-rock band Árstíðir, a quartet whose members include former Longyearbyen resident Ragnar Ólafsson on piano and vocals.

“They have also played in Russia and they have a Russian manager, so we are sending them over to Barentsburg on Friday,” Hansen said.

Two festival musicians are attracting plenty of interest after being presented with Spelleman Awards in January.
Emilie Nicolas, an electric pop vocalist, was named newcomer of the year and best pop soloist for last fall’s debut album “Like I’m A Warrior.” She is scheduled to perform during Friday night’s two-concert show in the main restaurant of the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel, which will be converted to a sound stage during the festival.

The other winner, Morten Abel, is another pop artist, but with a resume almost the polar opposite of Nicolas’. The 52-year-old singer released his first Norwegian album in 1981, won his first Spelleman Award in 1993, and has 20 album releases and numerous singles to his credit. He won the “Honor Prize” for career achievement.

The festival, now in its 18th year, tried to place more emphasis on jazz last year after downplaying the genre for several years. Hansen said he plans to feature more jazz again next year – aiming for “three good Norwegian jazz bands” on both Friday and Saturday nights – and alternating the formats each year.

One potential limiting factor is the crisis at Store Norske, which in the past has provided 100,000 kroner of the festival’s 1.2-million-kroner budget. Hansen said the loss of that funding might force organizers to use artists who are cheaper (or willing to work for less), but a cloud of uncertainty is still surrounding the company’s future.

“Store Norske is a big sponsor of the festival, so who knows what will happen next year,” he said.


Polarjazz schedule

8 p.m.: Vorspiel (warm-up) show by various local musicians. Radisson.

8 p.m.: Vidar Johnsen; Violet Road. Radisson.

8 p.m.: Emilie Nicolas; Bugge Wesseltoft & the Organ Club. Radisson. Followed by Solid Comfort in Barentz Pub until 3 a.m.

1 p.m.: Nora Konstanse. Kroa.
4 p.m.: Free bus from Lompensenteret to Huset, where torches will be available for walk to concert at Gruvelageret.
5 p.m.: Nina & The Butterfly Fish. Gruvelageret.
6:30 p.m.: Free bus from Huset to city center.
8 p.m.: Árstíðir; Bo Kaspers Orkester; Morten Abel. Radisson.
10 p.m.: Solid Comfort, followed by open jam session. Karlsberger Pub.

7 p.m.: Svalbard Kirkes Trio: Premier of “Svalbardmesse.” Svalbard Church.


Festival pass: 1,500 kr. Good for all shows Wed.-Sat. except Nina & The Butterfly Fish and Solid Comfort. Passholders may enter Radisson shows one hour in advance, but must enter w/ regular ticketholders afterward.
Individual shows: Vorspiel, 150 kr.; Thursday and Friday evening concerts, 600 kr. each day; Nora Konstanse, 50 kr.; Nina & the Butterfly Fish, sold out; Saturday evening concerts, sold out; Solid Comfort, 100 kr.; Svalbard Kirkes Trio, 100 kr.
Online purchase of most tickets and other festival information is available at polarjazz.no.