The DNB award winner's intense festival week in Groovebyen:

This year, award winner Per Zanussi is creating his own "Kongsberg Bass Festival"

Text: Sven Ove Bakke

There are a group of Norwegian jazz musicians who have been going for almost 30 years, but who are eternally young and are still counted in the headcount for newer Norwegian jazz. Last year's winner of the DNB musician award, Per Zanussi, is a true-born child of the 90s generation.

The year is 1996. The place is, not particularly surprising when we're talking Norwegian jazz, Trondheim. Per Zanussi has brought double bass and bass guitar with him from Stavanger to study at the increasingly sought-after jazz talent factory at the Conservatory of Music at NTNU, also known as jazz line.

It is not just any year in Norwegian jazz either. 1996 is in many ways a kind of year zero for the modern Norwegian jazz adventure. What was then called the Norwegian Culture Council produces the report "Improvisation set in system", in practice a road map for the organization of the modern Norwegian jazz landscape. It is also the year Bugge Wesseltoft releases the album "New Conceptions of Jazz" on his newly established company Jazzland Recordings. When Per Zanussi's jazz line band Wibutee - originally a trio he started together with saxophonist Håkon Kornstad and drummer Wetle Holte - makes its record debut with the album "Newborn Thing" in 1999, reinforced by Live Maria Roggen and Erlend Skomsvoll, it is of course at Jazzland.

- There were many applicants for few places, so it was a very good level every year. I still play with Håkon every now and then, and we are a group that have become both friends and colleagues for life, recalls Per Zanussi.

The prize for winning the prize

But like most jazz musicians, he primarily looks ahead ("it's Miles Davis' fault, he had to come up with something new at least every ten years, and it's still been that way for all of us"), and not least right now, when the outside temperature is rising and festival summer is approaching. 

The festival season will be of the hectic variety for the siddis, who last year won the DNB musician prize for the Kongsberg Jazz Festival. This year it entails a kind of "residency" at Kongsberg with the obligatory commissioned work and two further performances in different constellations.

- Three concerts during a festival is not quite common, but it has happened before. You are happy to be in several bands, some you run yourself and sometimes as a musician in other people's bands, explains Zanussi.

Between moods and genres

The Ordering Authority has been given the title "Liminal Beings". Being in between, the slightly undefined atmosphere and feeling that arises when you are between stages, both mentally and musically. After some joint reflection over the table, we end up on the attractive laundry note "twilight world music".

- It's a bit about thresholds. Rites of passage. When you are neither one nor the other. Improvisation in jazz is often a bit like this, you are in a field where you come from somewhere and can go in any direction. Musically, "Liminal Beings" is basically a fairly free jazz thing, with different inspiration from several genres. Moroccan music, Ethiopian jazz, early fusion, Indian ragas, played at dusk. And where the musicians get space to put their personal touch on the music. At the same time, we are well within the Norwegian jazz concept, that is!

This is a picture of Per Zanussi
Thursday 4 July / Time: 17:30

Per Zanussi: Liminal Beings (commissioned work)

Commissioned works can sometimes be characterized by the fact that the musicians have had too little time in advance, with busy people barely managing to play through the material before the festival premiere. 

- I have tried to do something about that. We were recently in Stavanger and invited people to a kind of rehearsal room concert in Martinique. I want us to have worked together enough to get to know the music together. It should not be too loose, and not too tight, in between the written and improvised. "Liminal", in other words.

text picture særingfest
Friday 5 July / Time: 19:30

Særingfest: Child of Illusion – Jaap Blonk & Terrie Ex – Maja SK Ratkje – Mayas/Buck/Stackenäs/Zanussi

Frijzazz and improvisation in quartet format

The other Kongsberg concerts will be part of the quartet Mayas / Buck / Stackenäs / Zanussi (Smeltehytta, Friday 5 July) and with newly established ones Zanussi 4 (EnergiMølla, Saturday 6 July) which shares some members with the ordering works text.

- There will be three concerts that show slightly different aspects of my work. With the commissioned work, we are a sextet, in practice a jazz band with some composed material. Zanussi 4 is a new free jazz quartet, with my songs and ideas. While the last quartet is one hundred percent improvised, and we've also recorded a record that hasn't been released yet. 

This photo is by Per Zanussi. Photographer Carsten Stolzenbach
Saturday 6 July / Time: 13.00

Zanussi 4

It is now natural to insert that Per Zanussi actually has a doctorate in improvisation. Or more precisely: A doctorate on composing music for musicians who improvise.

- It resulted in a project called "Natural Patterns", those who want to check it out will find it online. I actually played a concert with that project at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival in 2016. It was quite pling-plong and improvised, because that's where the research led the music. It was butchered hard by Terje Mosneswhile Johan Hauknes was enormously excited, he chuckles.

Between generations

Perhaps it was really just another example of music that is somewhere in between. I guess that's primarily what jazz is. But also generationally, Per Zanussi finds himself in the middle. The commissioned work group consists of a mixture of younger and slightly older forces. So he is, with his 47 years, in the middle tier here as well.

And that perhaps characterizes the 90s generation of Norwegian jazz musicians, jazz line-alumni or not: Now they are also teachers for a younger generation, just as bass legends like Arild Andersen and Bjørnar Andresen are and were for Zanussi's generation.

- I am privileged to have had the experience of playing with so many legendary musicians. I had people like Terje Venaas as a teacher in Trondheim and Bjørn Kjellemyr when I did my master's in Oslo. Bjørnar Andersen became a good friend, he was a wonderful figure and teacher. I have played a lot with Audun Kleive, and with Espen Rud and Jon Christensen. And the Swedish drummer Raymond Strid. It has been extremely educational.

Now Per Zanussi himself teaches at the Academy of Music in Oslo and in Stavanger, so he has a useful overview of the new generation of Norwegian bassists. 

- It is blooming very well. But it's not so strange either. Now there are five or six cities with music education of the type we only found in Trondheim in my time. 

- Is there anything in particular that you notice musically in the growing family?

- It's hard to say anything about trends without becoming a complete old man, that is. For example, I hear house-inspired synth, electric bass and drums and think that "this reminds me of Bugge in 1999". But when I ask them if they have heard it, they answer "no". Trends are circular, and jazz is in motion. That's how it is!

Per Zanussi together with the saxophonist Mona Krogstad when they both received DNB awards at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival last year. Zanussi received the musician award, while Krogstad received the #huninvesterer scholarship. Photo: Birgit Fostervold

The award is given to musicians who have put a personal stamp on their musical expression.

The music must be of high quality and stand out in the musical landscape.

The award winner must have shown initiative and a desire to create something new, create their own projects and carry out musical development work.

That this musician is absolutely central to Norwegian musical life goes without saying, but the jury also considers the opportunities he has to reach beyond the country's borders and make a name for himself in international jazz.

Kongsberg Jazzfestival's musician award is not an award given for long and faithful service, but an award with a double intention - both to recognize the musical effort up to now, and to give the award winner a stimulating boost going forward.

We appreciate what has been done - and have high expectations for what is to come.

Per Zanussi thanks for the musician award at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival in 2023, flanked by festival manager Ragnhild Menes (right) and DNB's Therese Askeland.